His images are astonishingly powerful, touching, raw and visceral. He claims not to be an artist but there is a definite art to his compositions, the way he has captured his subjects, and how he presents them to the world.
One of my favourite pieces of his work is part of a photo-story entitled, ‘War on the homefront’. It shows a street corner in Londonderry during the troubles. On one side of the corner is an armed patrol, bristling with weapons and riot shields. Creeping along the other side of the corner towards them is a teenager dressed in a suit and tie. His weapon of choice is a large plank of wood raised above his head.
His situation appears in turns futile, perilous, brave and almost darkly comedic. It’s David and Goliath in real life – one young man taking on an army with a just a stick.
It reminded me a little of some of Banky’s work in terms of the subversive nature of the image.
There was some light relief in his work, including a shot of a man and woman laughing as they competed in a knobbly knees competition at a holiday park, and some beautiful, ethereal images of elephants at a festival in India, but for me these moments of respite were swallowed up by the sheer volume of horror and despair in the frames that surrounded them.
A lifetime of documenting such events took its toll on McCullin. He is quoted as saying that he grew tired of the guilt of being able to walk away from the subjects in his pictures whilst they still suffered.
He retreated to his home in Somerset and now takes breath-taking photographs of the rugged, windswept landscapes that surround him. In his words, he is now ‘sentencing himself to peace’.
These landscapes are the last things you see in the exhibition because the curators understand the need, as did McCullin, to escape the ugliness and take in some of the beauty that also surrounds us.