For more than 50 years, award-winning British photojournalist Don McCullin has been letting his violent and bottomlessly meaningful war photographs speak. But now, luxury-goods brand Alfred Dunhill has included him in its Voice Campaign, which bi-annually features three select men of notable life achievement. The very exclusive honor has spurred the war photographer into using his words to describe warfare’s effects on his life and his own take on the experience.
In the black-and-white video, Don McCullin is seated on a chair against a blank backdrop. A single spotlight causes his shadow to cast shapes on the floor. He is impeccably dressed. The close ups reveal deep lines on his face, each of which seem to hide a compelling story within the folds. It’s quiet all around until he speaks, and the sound of his voice pierces the silence. But it’s a soothing effect – Don McCullin has the voice you’d expect him to have, of one who has seen it all, and it comforts you knowing it wasn’t you who had to witness any of it.
It’s a reminder that soldiers are not the only ones who bravely march into the thick of war, they’re not the only ones plagued by the helplessness felt as a witness of its horror and they’re certainly not the only ones still disturbed by it long after the last bullet has sounded off. Photojournalists experience it all too.
“I can conjure up the most appalling thoughts. It doesn’t have to be at nighttime. I can have those thoughts sitting in a taxi or on a train. You’re not going to do it, you’re not going to have a life after 50 years of what I’ve done,” says McCullin. “It’s not going to be a convenience, that you can have a nice day and push all these things away. They come totally uninvited, unexpected.”
Don McCullin doesn’t want to be remembered as a photographer who exposed the underbelly of society, although his work on the Vietnam War, the Suez Crisis and the Northern Ireland conflict is immensely respected. Past his prime years dodging bullets, witnessing executions and ducking down alongside soldiers, Don McCullin has left the war-torn fields and desires only peace in life. So nowadays he photographs beautiful landscapes.
Beauty, and not pain, is something he says he’d rather by remembered by.
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