McCullin – Shaped By War

I haven’t written one of these for a little while so thought I would mix it up and write another article on one of the many photography book’s I own.

First off if you have never heard of Don McCullin I implore you to go online and search him out, he is one of the most important and finest photographer’s of the 20th Century, that’s not my opinion that is a matter of fact. Born into and growing up through The Second World War and the aftermath in poverty stricken London he emerged to become an incredible War Photographer, and despite not liking the title himself he did a pretty good job at it.

This book was published around the time of a major exhibition of his work at The Imperial War Museum in Central London but cover’s a lot more than that, in fact it feels almost like a biography of the man through his images. All of his most famous images are here, from Vietnam and Cambodia to The Lebanon and Biafra and all presented in minimum of A4 format. I was pretty astounded when I managed to pick this up for as little as £25 as it’s worth much more than that to me.


The front image is of the helmet he wore during a tour in Vietnam where he documented the US Marine’s attack on the city of Hue (an impenetrable citadel like ancient place made famous since in the fantastic film Full Metal Jacket) and the rear of the book sports an image of his Nikon F which took a direct hit through the shutter winder from an AK-47 bullet in Cambodia. Yes he was never far from the front line of the action.

what’s most impressive about his work is that although he documented the cruellest and most hellish of times and places the entire point was not to cause the viewer to simply view it, tut about the savagery of places far from home and then move on but to shock them into thinking, into acting, into the notion that humanity as a whole is capable of horrendous acts of barbarism to itself. these people are just like you, they have children, families, brothers and sister’s and their lives have been torn asunder usually for the benefit of countries and people’s they will never visit, whom they will never meet and who do not care for them whatsoever. That was the greatest part of his work, it show’s you that not only is war hell but that it is always those who deserve it least who suffer the most.

Although as might be imagined the book focuses heavily on his war experiences it has many image’s prior to this, documentary photography of Post war blitz ruined London for example, and post also of his landscape and still life work. Again all the photo’s are beautifully printed, this really is an excellently put together thing.

The book itself is fantastic, I would encourage anybody to pick up a copy if they have a chance, in fact I would encourage anyone to pick up a copy of McCullin’s autobiography “Unreasonable Behaviour” also as I have just finished that myself and can not recommend that highly enough either. Or if you want to delve quickly into the man and can’t devote the time to reading a documentary was made in 2012 simply titled “McCullin“, that itself is also brilliant.

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