Dir. David Morris and Jacqui Morris
The sixties and seventies were a good time to go to war says Don McCullin in this documentary film: Vietnam, Nigeria, Northern Ireland, and the Congo spring immediately to mind but it is when he recounts his second visit to Lebanon that viewers might finally feel that they have supped too full with horror.
What raises this film above a cataloguing of human misery is the quality of the photographs shown and Harold Evans’ finely judged commentary; but most of all it is McCullin’s own contribution which is measured and restrained throughout.
Although he is shown sifting through some of his archive, for the most part he is simply shot speaking from the corner of a room by a window. He remains calm even though he tells of unimaginable human depravity, retaining a dignity and integrity despite what he had witnessed first-hand.
Nor does he ever hide behind the excuse of a photographer just doing his job; there are countless examples of McCullin going to work with his human conscience very much to the fore. He refused to photograph a public execution in Vietnam describing it as murder, and he put down his camera in order to help an elderly Turkish woman in Cyprus as she struggled to escape from the oncoming Greek soldiers. His sympathy for the victims of warfare and his attitude is immovable: “it is the poor people in warfare who suffer the most.”
How saddening it is then to learn that McCullin was excluded from the group of photographers authorised to go to the Falklands Conflict. It seems that his brand of honesty was not required, the media messages from the Falklands would be carefully controlled and there would no place for his kind of truth.
Equally saddening was to watch how a change of ownership effectively brought to an end the fine reputation for photo-journalism held by the Sunday Times. Evans pulls no punches: this was a direct result of the Print Unions’ actions, and passing into the hands of the Murdoch empire meant the end for Evans’ editorship as well as McCullin’s association with the newspaper.
At the time of writing this review Syrians are killing Syrians, a terrorist kidnap in Algeria has reached a bloody resolution and tensions are rising on the Indo-Pakistan border. Look on my works ye mighty and despair. The world desperately needs images of the pity of war.
The final few minutes show McCullin wandering through a snow covered English countryside taking landscape photographs. That he has seen unspeakable horrors is not in dispute at this stage of the film but his reputation as a photographer and his status as a humane practitioner are confirmed. He looks like a man at peace and no one deserves such peace more than he.