To coincide with the reopening of The Stillness of Life at Hauser & Wirth Somerset, Don McCullin (b. 1935) presents a special online exhibition of platinum prints. The digital curation echoes McCullin’s continued passion for international travel and the salvation he seeks within the British countryside.
A: Where did your photographic journey begin?
DM: I left the RAF in 1956 and started photographing local people in Finsbury Park, London. A photograph I took called The Guvnors was picked up and printed in The Observer in 1959. This was the starting point.
A: How has your work changed from then until now?
DM: My work has changed dramatically. I started without any formal training. I saw there was a whole world out there and so I studied other photographers. I went to Berlin in 1961 to photograph the Berlin wall and found myself involved in a huge international situation.
A: What camera do you use and why?
DM: I don’t use a single camera. One camera is good for landscapes; one is good for social documentary. These platinum prints were shot on a Mamiya Press Camera which produces a 6 x 9cm negative which is large. David Bailey recommended I try this camera for its great lens. I’ve now had 4 of them over last 30/40 years.
A: What do landscapes mean to you? What stories are you looking to tell?
DM: Freedom and the experience to get away from war and destruction. Landscapes have given me the opportunity to escape and clear my mind.
A: You refer to the trees as “etchings” that frame the geography. What, for you, constitutes a successful image?
DM: One that sits comfortably in the frame – that gives you information. A photograph must resonate with the viewer and move them in some way, especially if it has a political message or shows injustice. It should hold the viewer and make them feel the same way the photographer did when they took the photo.
A: With the title of this new exhibition being about “stillness.” How do you balance energy and stasis within your photographs?
DM: Photography demands an enormous input of energy – to endure – it is a huge task. For this stillness, I didn’t have to ask permission or share the environment with danger.
A: Nothing ever stays still in life; change is always to be expected. How do your photographs feed into this idea?
DM: There is a tree that I have photographed over the hill near my home in Somerset. I noticed recently a huge branch has fallen from it. The tree has changed. I must always photograph today, in the moment. One can’t go back.
A: Out of this show, is there a particular image that means the most to you?
DM: Very hard to choose. Each photograph is about a personal experience; each image has a different meaning. The Somerset landscapes are naturally very close to my heart. It is a spiritual home for me. The dark room – where I print all my Gelatin images – is an extension to my experience. What goes on in daylight then goes into the dark room and I inject my thoughts and emotional energy into each image. There is activity.
A: Are there any new works that have never before seen?
DM: I created a series of new arctic images following a trip to Svalbard last year, which was always a lifelong ambition for me. The Arctic really encapsulates what it is to be in complete stillness. These were first shown in my Hauser & Wirth Somerset exhibition earlier this year, and a platinum edition is featured within the online selection.
Don McCullin’s work is available to view online now. Click here.
1. Glencoe. 1992, printed in 2016. Platinum Print. Edition of 5. Somerset Edition. Image: 38.5 x 53 cm. Sheet: 56 x 77 cm. © Don McCullin. Courtesy of the artist and Hauser & Wirth.
2. The Arctic North, Svalbard Archipelago, 2019, printed in 2019. Platinum Print. Edition of 5. Somerset Edition. Image: 35 x 53 cm. © Don McCullin. Courtesy of the artist and Hauser & Wirth.
3. Somerset Levels, Glastonbury. 1990s, printed in 2016. Platinum Print. Edition of 5. Somerset Edition. Image: 36.7 x 53 cm. Sheet: 55.5 x 77 cm.© Don McCullin. Courtesy of the artist and Hauser & Wirth.