Don McCullin Retrospective – Tate Liverpool

I recently had the pleasure of visiting Tate Liverpool’s Don McCullin exhibition. McCullin is one of my favourite photographers not just for his incredible combat and conflict photography but also for his street photography which focuses on the hardships and lives of people.

Inside the exhibition (Matthew Moss)

McCullin, now 85, is probably best known for his photographs of conflict, including iconic photographs taken during the Battle of Hue, and his coverage of fighting in Northern Ireland, Crete, Cambodia, Lebanon and throughout Africa. His work covering famine in Ethiopia and the war and refugee crisis in Bangladesh evoke an immense amount of pathos.

Northern Ireland (McCullin)

The Tate’s exhibition is a well deserved retrospective that charts McCullin’s career from its beginnings through to the present – with him most recently travelling to Syria in 2016.

This short video includes some photographs of the exhibition which covered an entire floor of the gallery with each of the conflicts McCullin has photographed covered in chronological sections.

Checkpoint Charlie, with an M1919A6 (McCullin)

The exhibition is interspersed with collections of magazines which shows how some of his work was originally published by a wide range of magazines and publications. Perhaps the most interesting artefacts on display were a number of McCullin’s personal items including a US Army helmet, a light meter, a watch, passports, a compass and a 35mm Nikon F camera which apparently was struck by a 7.62x39mm round while in Cambodia in 1970.

Some of McCullin’s personal items used on assignment (Matthew Moss)

One thing I did find disappointing as a photographer myself was that the information with each photograph didn’t include what medium – film (35mm or 120) or DSLR, he took the photograph in. McCullin is an immensely skilled photographer with an amazing grasp of composition and technique while being able to capture highly emotive images. As he’s not only a photographer but also an expert photo developer, it would have been nice to have some of this more technical information next to each photograph. Regardless it was an immensely enjoyable exhibition which put into perspective the sheer breadth of McCullin’s work.

One of McCullin’s many photographs of poorer, industrial UK towns & cities (McCullin)
Cyprus 1964, (via Tate)
One of McCullin’s more recent foggy landscapes (McCullin)

Without doubt McCullin’s life’s work has affected him, seeing so much through the lens of your camera and being largely helpless to help people suffering is something McCullin mentions in a number of interviews and it is a thread in the narrative of the exhibition. McCullin’s most recent work – a series of strikingly moody foggy landscapes is described as being solace from his work documenting conflict and a way of dealing with his experiences.

Find out more about the exhibition here. It runs until the 9th May, 2021.

You can find some of McCullin’s best photographs here.

Some interesting Interviews with McCullin:

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