Don McCullin at Tate Livepool

I was fortunate to visit the Don McCullin retrospective at Tate Liverpool in October on the weekend before the city went into pandemic lockdown. The Tate’s website features the exhibition – https://www.tate.org.uk/whats-on/tate-liverpool/exhibition/don-mccullin.

The exhibition was vast and took me several hours to take in. The photographs were intense and oppressive; even the landscapes of Somerset where McCullin now lives and I grew up had the atmosphere of the Somme. It is sometimes said that photographs say as much about the photographer as the subject, and in the later landscape works I felt that might in fact say more about the photographer than the subject! When watching him interviewed, I’ve always felt the weight of McCullin’s war experiences cast a deep shadow over his identity.

iPhone snap of Don McCullin Berlin image

For a change, photography was allowed in the gallery. However, I didn’t feel like taking home McCullin’s horrific and tragic experiences; and I felt similarly about the books on display in the Tate’s shop. By intention, many of the images were almost too painful to see. McCullin has said he regrets that his images have changed little; there is still war and famine. I wondered whether if people had seen them on the scale possible on gallery walls, rather than newspaper magazines (or now on small screens), they would have had a greater impact, been impossible to ignore. The images viewed at this scale and in this volume certainly had a far greater effect on my own experience of them.

A section of McCullin’s work was directly relevant to my own project’s Northernness. He had spent time in Bradford, Liverpool and other Northern cities at a time when they were industrialised.

┬ęDon McCullin source: www.scienceandmediamuseum.org.uk

The images brought home how I was photographing a deindustrialised North, a sense of an aftermath that has been so long coming through a slow decline that the before is beginning to escape living memory. As a separate matter, I talk about the lasting effect of deindustrialisation on communities in my dissertation.

I felt the McCullin retrospective was a huge success – it disturbed and left me speechless for a while, which was McCullin’s intention when taking the photographs.