While I was in London looking at the National Portrait Gallery I took a walk down to Hamiltons Gallery in Mayfair as it was exhibiting work from Sir Don McCullin, CBE.
The exhibition was called Proximity and was a brilliant display of vintage gelatine silver prints from McCullin over a period of decades of work. As someone who is interested in photojournalism and press photography this work was awe-inspiring to me. There is a reason the print prices start from £25,000 for a single print and that is assumably because McCullin has spent a lifetime running around foreign countries trying to get the shots for publication for the world to look at while not getting shot himself!
McCullin is known for being a war photographer although, he says he does not like that label on himself, he does not want to be passed off just as a war photographer. He prefers to be known just as a photographer. In his varied images you can see why. His images are crafted from someone who I would say has got the ‘photographic eye’, a natural ability to see and compose the photograph. An artist with a camera so to speak.
McCullin’s image called; Tormented, Homeless Irishman, Spitalfields, London, 1969.
The image above taken by McCullin is similar to the images I will try to capture in my assignment. It is up close and personal and I would suggest it was taken with a 50mm lens. There is some kind of connection in the image to the viewer as the subject is looking directly into the camera almost gaze-like. You can see the man is very unkept with matted hair and the beard and his clothes are dirty. For a man to look like this in London in 1969 you would think immediately that he is homeless. I think that the man is of colour but it is hard to tell with the image being black and white. It could be just built up dirt. I think that the light patches on his forehead and nose are scars. There is a lot of texture on the mans face giving away his age. His look into the camera is as though he is totally compos mentis, I think that you would need to be, to survive the streets of London for a prolonged period.
If I can get good shots like this one for my assignment I will be very happy indeed. I will also talk to my subjects and ask them information on their background and how they came to be on the streets.
McCullin’s image called; Shell Shocked Marine, Vietnam, Hue, 1968.
The above image of the marine is again close in and again shot with a 50mm lens I would think. This is McCullin’s most celebrated image and it appears all over the internet.
At first thought you think that the marine is looking directly into the lens under the shadow of his helmet but on close inspection you can see he is staring beyond it, into nothing. I would argue that this is the reason that the image has been talked about so much because it captures the marine shell-shocked and it gives the viewer a small glimpse of what it would be like to be moulded by the effects of war on your individual soul. Other than the matter of the eyes, it is a simple portrait of the marine holding his gun, or prop if you like, for portrait purposes but, the eyes are everything, and the moment was captured perfectly.
The image above by McCullin entitled, Ban the Nazis, shot in Finsbury Park, London, 1961-1962 is classic photojournalism. The image focusing on the slogan written on the wall with the narrow depth of field leaves no error in ones head to what the image is about. I will not start talking about the complexities of the Nazis or the Jews as that is also written but then scrubbed out. This blog is more about photography but I think this image is clear and concise and shows that McCullin knows exactly how to make an image work using the aperture of his camera.
McCullins image called; Chapel Market, Islington, London, 1957-1959.
The image above is in my mind is a freak occurrence. McCullin has captured the older lady pulling the face while the young man behind her is pulling a face in reply, even though he would not know that the old lady is making that face of her own, it is classic ‘capture the moment’ street photography. McCullin has a knack of pressing that shutter button in exactly the right time. You must remember that all these images are shot with a film camera and they are not the contemporary DSLR cameras that have 10-16 frames a second!
I Really enjoyed myself looking at these images amongst others at Hamilton’s gallery, just the name Don McCullin had me eager to get down to London to see his images. One thing is for sure, I will be making more of an effort to get to photographers exhibitions in the future whether they are for an academic project or not!