Don McCullin Exhibition at the Imperial War Museum

‘I am a professed atheist, until I find myself in serious circumstances. Then I quickly fall on my knees, in my mind if not literally, and I say : “Please God, save me from this.”‘ — Don McCullin We’ve just got back in from the last day of the Don McCullin exhibition at the Imperial War Museum. If it wasn’t the last day, I would say go and take it in. It’s been very well put together and reminds me why I used to enjoy gallery hopping. This is the first exhibition I’ve been to in around a year.

The quality of the work on the walls is astounding. To take pictures of that quality with nothing more than a Nikon F, Tri-X and a lightmeter is pretty damn amazing and the situations they’re taken in are equally provocative.

Oh, and a Nikon F saved his life by taking a bullet. They don’t build ’em like that any more. Admittedly he carried three, which is quite a bit of surface area (and weight).

And a packet of Ready Brek.

But there’s something at the bottom of almost every single exhibition note which caught my eye:

“Hand printed by Don McCullin” Now take a look at the quality and thought which has gone into many of these prints. We praise McCullin based on the quality of his photographs and his subject matter without taking into account that he’s a master printer. After failing to pass his photographers theory exam in the RAF, he worked in the darkrooms and this really comes through in his work. There’s a single annotated working image in the collection, the iconic “Shell Shocked Soldier” from 1968. Something I’ve noticed from other PJs from the same period is they came back from assignment and dropped off the films with the in-house printer from the newspaper. They then visit the printer later and discuss modifications. Don worked the prints himself, and this comes across in the detail in the images. There’s also a lot of work in a still-life consisting of a vase of flowers and “souvenirs” brought back from Cambodia and Vietnam (sorry, can’t find a link). I stood there staring at it for a good five minutes, just taking in the detail work.

Genius.