Shaped by War: Photographs by Don McCullin – Imperial War Museum, February 2012

Shaped by War: Photographs by Don McCullin (Imperial War Museum)

Imagine a life without people like Don McCullin.

Imagine a life where photojournalism does not exist.

Yes. Social media is making is easier for us to know what’s happening in the world these days. But that’s not the whole picture.

How can we make informed decisions if we don’t know what really goes on?

For Don McCullin, it seems that a lifetime on the front line has taken its toll (unsurprisingly).

You can’t go around kidding yourself that your photographs in a few papers will change the world. They can’t and they haven’t. I dispair about the human race. The press only shows the bums, the killers and the arm dealers and people like that. Good news never sold a newspaper.” Don McCullin

I can see why there are doubts. Wars continue to be waged, atrocities are constantly committed and civilians suffer.

But this work matters. Why is it okay for Don McCullin to cover atrocities in El Salvador or Biafra but not a home conflict like the Falklands? Why else would armies now have their own photographers showing us their version of war?

The atrocities. The stories. They make uncomfortable viewing. You don’t come out of the exhibition thinking that these were pretty images. The subject matters make sure of that. These are powerful images.

I want you to look at my photographs. I don’t want you to reject and say: ‘No, I can’t do that. I can’t look at those pictures. They are atrocity pictures.’ Of course, they are. But I want to become the voices of the people in those pictures.” Don McCullin

As long as we continue to be shocked and angered by what goes on, humanity has a chance. And that’s why the world needs people like Don McCullin.

Shaped by war: Photographs by Don McCullin is on at the Imperial War Museum until 15 April 2012. Admission fee.

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