A Photographer Laments
October 11, 2015 3 Comments
There are many people who are warm humans. They feel, have passions and they live to try and change the world. Out of such individuals, there are a few who have been given special skills by Allah (swt) to fulfil their calling. And then right at the end of this spectrum of humanity, out of these gifted individuals, come those who are very successful in exploiting these special skills. By the nature of elimination, these last individuals are very few and far between. When you come across them you know. They not only have greatness, but they touch you without even trying and you know that these are kings and high nobles, who rarely walk this earth.
I watched a fascinating interview by Steven Sackur, in HardTalk, with Don McCullin, the legendary photographer. Here is someone who has lived life on the edge. Touching eighty, Don, has been on photographic assignments since 1959. A vast majority of his work has been in the heartland of tragedy.
Don was in Aleppo in Syria fairly recently and is now planning one last visit to Iraq. In reality he retired several years ago from these wars and crises photographic assignments. But, from what I could gather, he is addicted to this passion and keeps going back, though clearly his body cannot be backing him at this age.
As Don accounted, he has survived over a thousand dead colleagues who were on similar assignments in these fifty plus years. They all risked their lives, sacrificed on the alter of their passion and were driven to bring reality to the world. Terrible deeds go on in the name of humanity and these people, who are right in the middle of war zones, risk their own lives to bring reports to us. Don himself once escaped death, when his Nikon camera stopped a bullet. Sometimes you are born lucky.
So why did Don do what he did? He was dyslexic, a school leaver after his fathers early death and then never qualified as a photographer for the RAF. On the card was a clerical existence, in various newspapers in London. But fate was not going to allow a latent skill to go to waste. It intervened. Dons photograph of a London gang in 1959, made it big and suddenly he realised that there was a place where he could make a career. He then did a personal assignment, photographing the events around the making of the Berlin Wall in 1961. This was in the heart of the Cold War and the happening event. From thereon, Dons walk through and into History was an inevitable event.
Notwithstanding the strength, a great will to make a difference and a very brave heart, it is Dons conclusions which I want to record here. This man has hoped as few must have. He kept going back into tragedy willingly all his life. Few of us would even have the will to go back for a second assignment. He once saw men runover by a tank in Vietnam, when he said they were like a Persian carpet on the floor, when the tank had done its work. He once picked a lame old lady in a fire-zone and saved her, at personal risk. This photographer hoped and felt.
Dons lament after watching the recent refugee crisis in Europe was, that nothing had changed. Humans are still as bad as they were fifty years ago. All this talk of wars to make things better is hogwash. Today even the Cold War might be back at the forefront, with Russia facing off against Nato in Syria. Just like he saw when he started photography in the late 50’s.
When Don McCullin spent a week in Aleppo, he said “I wanted a last look at what was going on, to make sure it was not a dream. It was exactly like Beirut, streets full of Kalashnikovs. Little had changed.” The propensity to suffer had not diminished. “I felt an enormous sense of sadness and disappointment. NATO, the EU, democracy how little it has achieved. Russia creating a new Cold War. Whats there to be joyful about? Nothing.”
A photographer laments, when he has seen his life’s work wasted. His last few thoughts, “I am so ashamed, watching this human race”.
Reference: Steven Sackur HardTalk interview and Alastair Sooke interview. Biography from various internet sites. Photograph from slideshare.net