Shaped by War: Photographs by Don McCullin

Imperial War Museum

Don McCullin is renowned for being one of the greatest war photographers of our time. For most of his life he has been travelling the globe deep into the most dangerous and horrifying situations on earth, taking images of the victims of war, massacres and the destitute. As you enter the exhibition McCullin’s images are not just pictures they portray a world deeply distressed in the harshest of times. One of his most famous pictures is called "Shell Shocked US Marine Vietnam" in which a bedazzled US soldier is grasping a rifle, his eyes seem to be looking at the camera in fact they are acutely lost far beyond the camera lens. The image is a profound and ghastly example of the perils of war and its effect on the human mind.

Don McCullin said he was a “war junkie” he acknowledges he has seen too much and the effects of war have had a stern impact on his life on both a personal and social level. He risked his life being a photographer in modern warfare and he was nearly killed in Uganda, he counts himself as one of the lucky ones. The fascinating exhibition also includes photographs of conflicts in Cyprus, the Belgian Congo, Vietnam, Cambodia, Lebanon and many more some of which have never been seen before. Alongside his photographs there is much personal material on display: his passports, army boots, helmet and of course many of his cameras, one of them being a Nikon F which was damaged by a bullet while he was in Cambodia in 1970.

As you wade through the exhibition floor, you sense you are passing through time, each conflict marginalised, and each one as horrific as the previous. They all depict a story, a history that many have forgotten or wish not to speak about, for fear of being overwhelmed by grief.

McCullin is now 64 and married for the third time. He lives in rural Somerset and now focuses on landscape photography, a sort of relief from years of being in war torn lands. At the Imperial War Museum McCullin’s images are a shocking and horrific testimony to the ills of mankind, which people of all age and gender should without fail bear witness to.

Don McCullin
Shaped by war
Imperial War Museum North
Until 13 June