This week I finally visited the Imperial War Museum (I believe one of the Worlds greatest museums) because of an exhibition named 'Shaped by War', in which the largest public display of Don McCullins photography was shown.
Don McCullin: born and bred in Finsbury Park, London.
His career began after he shot pictures of a gang he had become embroiled with. One of these gang members shot dead a police officer, soon after his pictures became of interest, and he sold them to a national newspaper. As they would say, the rest is history.
McCullin was employed as a photo journalist, and became renowned for his photos of the unemployed, downtrodden and impoverished. Self taught, McCullin acknowledges the fighting and violence which ignited his career. His next 50 years would then be spent surrounded by further violence and fighting (hence the name of the exhibition).
His pictures, accompanied by a short film, told stories of his most famous assignments in Berlin, Vietnam, Cambodia, Biafra, Bangladesh and the Middle East. The images he captured were absolutely unbelievable. As I wandered around, the realisation quickly fell upon me of just how much of a risk he (and also many others) put himself, in order to capture these images as a way of informing the rest of the world and documenting history.
McCullin spoke of hauling wounded soilders to safety, of falling off the roof of a building and laying there wounded for 12 hours, of being seriously wounded by shrapnel from a bomb and seeing the person in front of him killed after essentially shielding him with his body.And he spoke of seeing many many men, from all over the world, killed. Killed by fellow human beings.
He mentioned he was thankful that he was not 'mad' but that he thought that he may actually be in a state of 'controlled madness', as he recognised that noone can live a life as he has, seeing human beings take the lives of other human beings, and walk away the same from it. He said he trusts his family, his friends, his loved ones...but he has no trust for man kind. He does not trust humanity.
Looking back on history... he could be bang on the mark.
Genocide. This term didnt actually exist until 1944 (and was formed after the systematic murder and destruction of the Jews at the hands of the Nazis). Geno-meaning tribe, and cide-meaning killing. Killing your own people. Turning against those you've lived amongst with the belief of creating a utopic world. The Holocaust, Rwanda, Cambodia to name just a few. The atrocities that took place are crimes which most of us could never fathom and will never live through ourselves. But these are examples of humanity turning on each other, turning on itself.
One of the questions that has been explored, is 'Who takes part in Genocide?' The answer is 'We do.' Human beings. Normal human beings, just like you and I. Why they do it, theres many
answers to that question and probably not one that all people would agree with. But these people are just like you and I.
The claim has been made that the people of Rwanda, Germany and Cambodia must all share a similar gene or trait, to enable them to take part in these crimes. Such rubbish! They are human, and they've been led on to such the path in which they followed. Its a massive topic, and a massive question to even be delved into.....one in which I am by no means qualified to answer.
The museum was an incredibly thought provoking place. I felt some things to the pit of my stomach and I really did leave with quite a heavy feeling. However I left with an acknowledgement of how incredibly important is it for one to know about history, about our world, and about the sufferings and the plights of other human beings. For how can we
appreciate what we have, and be grateful for our lives, if we live in the bubble of our day to day being. I'm glad I pushed open that door.
I want to leave you with a quote from McCullin himself:
"Photography for me is not looking, it’s feeling. If you can’t feel what you’re looking at, then your're never going to get others to feel anything when they look at your pictures."
Here are just a few examples of McCullins work....