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Don McCullin Analysis
Don McCullin, born 9th October 1935, is a British photojournalist widely recognised for his war
photography and other photography work.
Mccullin started out as a freelance photographer, taking and producing his own images. In his early
days, when he started his photography career back in 1959, he examined the undersides of society.
He photographed the poor, the unemployed and downtrodden people and began mixing with the local
gangs from Finsbury Park. Here he started to photograph the violence he was experiencing which led
to his recognition after a picture of London gangs appeared in The Observer in late 1959.
Immediately we begin to see Mccullin’s style of photography, the way in which he takes his images
and some of the techniques he uses. Although his images are incredibly simplistic they create a huge
impact on the viewer.
This black and white photograph which brought him to the attention of The Observer was taken in
the bombed ruins of London after World War Two, showing the Guvnors posing for the camera. The
cocky confidence of the men seem somewhat out-of-place in this building which has the front and
back blown out. The vertical symmetry in down the centre of the building of the house is practically
The foreground consists of rubble and partially cleared ruins of the building and leads to the mid third
horizontal where each of the gang members has framed themselves within their own individual frame
using the walls and rooms and supports. The top third consists of the roof area with supports
continuing the same pattern as the two levels below.
Its natural lighting picks out the individuals who as they pose for the camera, taken from a low angle
makes the ruins look bigger and makes and also the individuals more threatening.
McCullin’s first war assignment began in Cyprus in 1964 when he stopped working for The Observer
and began photography work for The Sunday Times. It’s important to note that although he was
working for the papers McCullin fully produced his own images. The papers would come to him with
a photography story they wanted publishing and McCullin would go out and return with the finished
This assignment was followed by the Congo, Vietnam, Cambodia, Israel, Biafra, Venezuela, Northern
Ireland, Zimbabwe, El Salvador, Czechoslovakia, Uganda, and Lebanon. For twenty years McCullin
was hardly away from any war or natural disasters. Initially his photography consisted of him
shooting and running back to safety, but he later developed his technique by studying the subject
before adjusting readings then taking the photographs which created some startling images that
made him famous.
The Berlin Wall
The Berlin Wall, this incident was spontaneous, nothing set up, the sentry just doing his rounds when
all of a sudden there’s a gap in the wire, his superiors and colleagues are not paying him any attention
so he decides there and then to go for a chance to escape to freedom.
The photographer in the foreground suddenly realises the situation and is in the process of getting his
picture. The inclusion of both of the photographer and the ladies in the background who have just
noticed what is happening helps add tension to the story. The setting is a drab street and the barbed
wire has been there for some time as it appears to be collapsing giving the solider the opportunity of
escaping by just doing an easy jump over it.
This photograph could easily have been missed but relies totally on the photographers intuition
knowing somethings about to happen and reacting instantaneously which is taken within seconds of
the decision to make a break for freedom as it catches the soldier in mid-air trying to remove his rifle
from his shoulder which is hindering his moment as he makes his escape.
Due to his disregard for rules and ignoring curfews McCullin has been shot at, ambushed, beaten,
suffered broken bones and imprisoned several times all around the world. In the early 1990’s after a
long hard career and the loss several close colleagues, he decided to move to Somerset, away from
human misery. He still photographs human interest stories and seeks sanctuary in the countryside.
Don has written several books about his experiences during his travels and his photojournalism, he
now concentrates mainly on landscape and still life preferring to put his past experiences behind him.