Don McCullin: Conflict – People – Landscape, Hauser & Wirth Somerset

One of the world’s most celebrated photojournalists, and creator of some of the most unforgettable and harrowing images of armed conflict around the world, this exhibition takes a broader view of Don McCullin’s long career.

The retrospective maps five decades of visual history, bringing together a broad selection of McCullin’s most powerful images, from his beginnings in North London to a series of compositions of the Somerset landscape he now calls home. In addition it presents a collection of personal memorabilia, including the Nikon camera that notoriously saved his life from a sniper’s bullet during the Vietnam war.

It begins with his first published image in The Observer on 15 February 1959. The Guvnors was taken in Finsbury Park and marked the start of McCullin’s documentation of London gang culture and impoverished urban Britain throughout the 1960s and 70s. He turned a harsh spotlight on the reality of life post-war, including the stark landscapes of the industrial North, increasing unemployment and homelessness in the capital and growing unrest across the country.

McCullin covered every major conflict in his adult lifetime. His assignments included the Vietnam and Biafra War, the “Troubles” in Northern Ireland, the construction of the Berlin Wall, the Lebanese civil war, Belgian Congo, the Russian invasion of Afghanistan and the fall of Phnom Penh. Even at the age of 77, he recently travelled to cover the war in Syria. McCullin’s war documentation is undisputedly his most famous, drawn to the brutality of combat and its savage aftermath, his images have adorned national newspapers and international magazines, contributing significantly to the widespread growth of anti-war feeling. In 1977 he was appointed a Fellow of the Royal Photographic Society and in 1993 he became the first photojournalist to be awarded CBE.

For the last two decades McCullin has turned to look at the land around him, namely the Somerset village to which he was evacuated during the Blitz. Often referring to the sweeping rural landscape of the Somerset Levels as his greatest salvation, he demonstrates the full mastery of his medium with stark black and white images resonating with human emotion while retaining the honesty and grit synonymous with his earlier works. “For me photography was originally nothing to do with war, it was to do with the beautiful”, he says.

Don McCullin: Conflict – People – Landscape,  until 31 January, Hauser & Wirth Somerset, Durslade Farm, Dropping Ln, Bruton, Somerset BA10 0NL.

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1. Don McCullin, Dew Pond, Somerset, 1988, Gelatin Silver Print, Dimensions variable © Don McCullin.