Don McCullin, Eighty, Hamiltons Gallery, London

This year marks the 80th birthday of renowned photographer, Don McCullin, and to celebrate this event, Hamiltons Gallery is showing a selection of over-sized silver gelatin prints which are each one of an edition of 15. While McCullin is known for having always printed his own works, he has supervised this process as his own dark room is too small for these vast photographs.

McCullin’s work has ranged from photojournalistic pieces taken on the streets of London, his first published photograph having been taken in 1959 of London gang The Guvnors after their involvement in a murder case, and across the conflict-ridden landscapes of the Belgian Congo, Lebanon during civil war and Northern Ireland during the ‘Troubles.’ Initially self-taught, having left school at 15 with no qualifications, McCullin went on to work for The Sunday Times, where projects involved traumatic visits to Vietnam and Cambodia; these images have become his best-known.

His closeness and empathy with his subjects is tangible, having once said of his work “sometimes it felt like I was carrying pieces of human flesh back home with me, not negatives. It’s as if you are carrying the suffering of the people you have photographed.” Possibly McCullin’s best known photograph is that taken of a shell-shocked Marine in Vietnam. McCullin dropped to his knees and took five single, consecutive shots: the man’s expression did not change, it was without even a blink. The artist’s work told the truth about war via the medium of film, and contributed to strong anti-war feelings at the time.

Later, McCullin moved to take revealing photographs of his homeland of England, depicted with the same honest and raw tone as his war photography. The beautiful landscapes of Somerset are contrasted with images of poverty and tragedy; similarly his recent publication Southern Frontiers: A Journey Across the Roman Empire (2010) captures the southern edges of what was once the Roman Empire, its incredible ruins as well as those living in these wildly varied areas. McCullin’s work is an unwavering account of human suffering, urgent, powerful images which refuse to look away.

Don McCullin, Eighty, 9 September – 3 October, Hamiltons Gallery, 13 Carlos Pl, London W1K 2EU.

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1. Don McCullin, Early Morning, West Hartlepool, County Durham, 1963. Gelatin silver print. © Don McCullin. Courtesy of Hamiltons Gallery.