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by Don McCullin
ISBN 022406133X / 9780224061339 / 0-224-06133-X
Publisher Random House UK
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The title of this compilation of photographs says it all. Don McCullin is the definitive collection of the 20th century's most revered war photographer. McCullin's work, right at the heart of some of the most dangerous killing fields in recent decades, has defined the pity of war for a generation. The front cover photograph captures much of what defines his work. A close-up of a shell-shocked US Marine, taken in Vietnam in 1968, portrays a dramatic moment of supreme human emotion under maximum distress, captured with McCullin's incredible compassion and empathy. However, as Harold Evans, McCullin's old boss and former editor of the Sunday Times points out in his introduction, "most of the photographs here have exciting or emotional stories attached to them, but many are distinguished, too, by composition, the compelling mood achieved by sombre lighting, and their sensitivity for the subjects". These include McCullin's remarkable early photographs of urban deprivation and gangland life in London in the late 1950s, and the late, haunting landscapes of Somerset that start and end the collection.
The other chapters bring together McCullin's finest work from Cyprus (1964-65), The Congo (1964-66), Vietnam (1965-68), Biafra (1968-70), Derry (1971), Cambodia (1970-75) and Beirut (1976-82). There are some truly horrifying pictures of these conflicts, whose impact is strengthened by deadpan captions: "Murdered man, shot through the brain, Stanleyville, 1964", "A sixteen-year old mentally handicapped boy. The doctor laughed at him. Biafra, 1968", "Dying Cambodian paratrooper hit by the same mortar shell that hit McCullin, Cambodia, 1970". In her introductory essay Susan Sontag argues that McCullin's extraordinary images are "an invitation to pay attention, to reflect, to learn, to examine the rationalisations for mass suffering offered by established powers". In Don McCullin we have one of the most shocking and compassionate chroniclers of mass suffering, who remains as relevant today as ever before. --Jerry Brotton [via]