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Casualties of War – Don McCullin Retrospective at the Tate

Casualties of War – Don McCullin Retrospective at the Tate

Protester, Cuban Missile Crisis, Whitehall, London 1962. Shot by Don McCullin

Don McCullin stands as one of the most internationally renowned photographers in the world. Now 83 he’s spent over 60 years working behind the lens covering numerous conflicts across the globe such as Vietnam, Cambodia, Northern Ireland, Bangladesh, often at great personal risk to himself, with McCullin’s images offering up brutally honest depictions of the suffering, death and destruction that war brings.

This retrospective of his work at Tate Britain, featuring over 250 of his photographs, all printed by the artist himself in his own darkroom, might be about the most powerful show you will ever visit.

Over 23 chronological sections we get to see some of McCullin’s most iconic photographs from his storied career, some of which are so graphic they make you feel uneasy, but of course, in many ways, that’s the whole point. With the brutality, futility and wide raging consequences of conflict laid bare for all to see.

Near Checkpoint Charlie, Berlin 1961. Credit: Don McCullin

Along with his pictures, the show contains personal effects such as his helmet and the Nikon camera which took a bullet from an AK47 for him in Cambodia. McCullin kept it as a reminder of how lucky he’s been to have survived reporting in these troubled areas for so long.

The Battle for the City of Hue, South Vietnam, US Marine Inside Civilian House 1968. Credit: Don McCullin

Don McCullin began taking photographs in the 1950s, documenting his surroundings and local community in his native Finsbury Park, London. In 1958 he got his big break when his photograph “The Guvnors in their Sunday Suits”, a portrait of a notorious local gang standing on a bombed-out building, was published in The Observer, launching his career as a photojournalist.

The Guvnors in their Sunday Suits, Finsbury Park, London 1958. Credit: Don McCullin

Working first for The Observer and then The Sunday Times Magazine, McCullin went on to capture major conflicts around the world from Vietnam and the Congo to Cyprus and Beirut.

While best known as a photojournalist and war correspondent, McCullin has also consistently engaged in documentary photography in Britain, depicting scenes of poverty and working-class life in London’s East End and the North of England. From the homeless and disenfranchised population of Whitechapel in the 70s to the industrial landscapes of Bradford, Liverpool and Durham, McCullin has exposed changing social conditions in the UK.

Local Boys in Bradford 1972. Credit: Don McCullen

Two years ago he returned to Syrian visiting the devastated city of Homs to document the deliberate destruction and demolitions undertaken by IS. Here he captured buildings, now half standing, half ruins – telling images of another tragic war.

The theatre on the Roman city of Palmyra, party destroyed by Islamic State fighters. Credit: Don McCullin

Don McCullin at Tate Britain is on now till 6 May 2019.

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