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Tate Britain Tips the Hat to the Legendary Don McCullin

  • Don McCullin - Londonderry
  • Don McCullin - Woods near My House, Somerset
January 27, 2019
Balasz Takac is alias of Vladimir Bjelicic who is actively engaged in art criticism, curatorial and artistic practice.

The post-war period nurtured a generation of people who were eager to perceive life from all the possible perspectives, so it is understandable that during the 1950s so many outrageously talented and socially responsible artists started working. When it comes to photography in the United Kingdom, one of the most exceptional figures was Don McCullin, who managed to construct recognizable black and white aesthetic by applying journalistic approach on war, documentary and landscape photography.

The upcoming exhibition at Tate Britain will be an actual retrospective of one of Britain’s greatest living photographers aimed to provide a thorough insight into his more than five decades long practice.

Don McCullin - Protester Cuban Missile Crisis Whitehall London
Don McCullin – Protester Cuban Missile Crisis, Whitehall, London, 1962

The Domains of Don McCullin

Don McCullin became engaged with photography during the 1950s by capturing his neighborhood and the local community in his native Finsbury Park in London. In 1958 his career started blooming after the Observer published his photograph The Guvnors, a portrait of a notorious local gang.

As the time passed by, McCullin was able to capture the world’s major conflicts in Vietnam, Congo, Cyprus, and Beirut, and became one of the leading photojournalists of his generation. Alongside the astounding images from around the world, he was a vivid and critically charged observer who depicted the tough living conditions of working-class living in London’s East End and the north of England.

Don McCullin - Local Boys in Bradford
Don McCullin – Local Boys in Bradford, 1972

The Installment

The selection will encompass two hundred and fifty McCullin photographs made all manually produced throughout his expansive career. Some of the highlights will definitely be the iconic images such as Starving Twenty Four Year Old Mother with Child, Biafra from 1968 and Northern Ireland, The Bogside, Londonderry from 1971. Character studies of people at the seaside and at Ascot works will be contrasted with the contemplative landscapes of the British countryside, especially Somerset, a place in which McCullin lived for the past three decades. Interestingly so, landscapes and still lifes became increasingly present in the photographer’s oeuvre from the 1980s onwards.

On display will also be his most recent photographs which are part of an ongoing project Southern Frontiers. Through this series, McCullin unifies the two recurrent motifs present in his work and those are conflict and landscape. Namely, for a couple of years, the photographer is taking shots of the physical remains of the architecture of the Roman Empire in the north African and Levantine landscapes. That is how captured the deliberate demolition of several important sites by the so-called Islamic State; one of them titled The theater on the Roman city of Palmyra, partly destroyed by Islamic State fighters will be on display.

McCullin’s hand-printed prints will be followed by his magazine spreads, contact sheets, his helmet and the Nikon camera which took a bullet for him in Cambodia.

Don McCullin - The theatre on the Roman city of Palmyra
Don McCullin – The theatre on the Roman city of Palmyra, partly destroyed by Islamic state fighters, 2017

Don McCullin at Tate Britain

This exhibition is jointly curated by Simon Baker, Director of The Maison Européene de la Photographie, Paris, and Shoair Mavlian, Director of Photoworks, with the assistance by Aïcha Mehrez, Assistant Curator of Contemporary British Art, Tate Britain. An extensive illustrated catalog will accompany the show along with the following program of lectures and talks.

Don McCullin will be on display at Tate Britain in London from 5 February until 6 May 2019.

Featured images: Don McCullin – Londonderry, 1971; Grenade Thrower, Hue, Vietnam, 1968; Woods near My House, Somerset, c.1991. Tate Purchased 2012. All images are courtesy of the artist and Tate.