Thanks to the Internet, I’ve again been blessed with information I may have missed otherwise. A UK-based colleague has just informed me (by email) that acclaimed photojournalist Don McCullin, best known for capturing iconic images of conflicts in Vietnam and Cambodia, is getting quite a bit of media attention there recently for a retrospective exhibition of his work that opened at the Imperial War Museum North earlier this month, celebrating his 75th year and a 50-plus year career.
And apparently, in the media’s current coverage of McCullin, there’s a great deal of discussion about his time in Vietnam and Cambodia in the 1960s and 1970s as a photographer for the Sunday Times Magazine.
In some of the TV and newspaper interviews he’s done lately, McCullin has described his life as one that from childhood-during WWII-has been shaped by conflict; perhaps in doing so, reflecting on a degree of fate involved in his life to-date. And on his long and prolific career, he recalls that while on one hand he sometimes felt ashamed of all the terrible things he’d seen (McCullin rejects the title ‘war photographer’), on the other, he also found himself ‘becoming a war junkie,’ in that he felt a responsibility in his on-location role to speak for the dead and document the human cost of conflict.
Perhaps such thoughts stem from when McCullin was stationed in Vietnam and Cambodia with the US army, where he survived many of his friends including fellow photographer Kyoichi Sawada who was killed in Cambodia while on assignment.
McCullin himself actually narrowly avoided death when he was wounded by a bullet that lodged into his camera in Cambodia. The damaged camera is on display for the first time as part of the current UK exhibition. The veteran photojournalist has said that he also understood more the weight of his job after seeing his own blood shed as part of war, thereby becoming connecting to his subject matter physically.
Although I’m certain none of us would ever wish injury upon ourselves or others to have such profound experiences in our careers, it is for me at least, something I quite admire as extraordinary and sometimes valuable-to have these life-shattering experiences in some way make a mark on your craft.