McCullin Review

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This fascinating documentary chronicles the thrills, spills and deep moral quandaries of life as an intrepid photojournalist.

Few men thrive during times of war, yet Don McCullin did. The self-taught British photojournalist (don't call him a war photographer) established himself as a pioneer of his field during the '60s, '70s and '80s, bringing hard-hitting sociopolitical events – the erection of the Berlin Wall, the Biafran War, the Tet Offensive – to Britain's front pages.

In this fascinating cine memoir directed by McCullin's one-time assistant Jacqui Morris and her brother David, the recently retired smudger recounts his unlikely escape from near-poverty in 1950s north-east London and even more unlikely rise to prominence as a young reportage photographer for the Observer. His curiosity with conflict and fearless dedication regularly took him to the front line of the most important news stories in the world.

Edited as a sort of extended-montage of his most famous snaps and supplemented with interview footage with former colleague, ex Sunday Times editor Harold Evans, McCullin presents a potted history of twentieth-century politics as seen through the unflinching lens of a self-confessed 'war junkie' with an apparently muddy conscience.

Despite his assertion that he has always retained an empathetic eye, even going so far as to offer aid to the chronically infirm in the most exceptional circumstances, McCullin is forced to acknowledge a sensitive moral dilemma that has plagued him his entire career: what is the price of making money off the pain and suffering of others?

McCullin asked Jacqui Morris to make this film after falling seriously ill (he's since recovered and is living the quiet life in rural Somerset, where he spends his days taking landscape pictures as a means to allaying his demons). Perhaps he felt he needed to get a few things off his chest while he still had the chance. After all, he's spent the best part of a lifetime witnessing the kinds of horrors most of us would fail to conjure in even our darkest nightmares.

And yet it is precisely McCullin's ability to detach himself from his subject that makes his work so valuable, both in an artistic and educational sense. Without people like him, it's distressing to think how different our understanding of the world might be.

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