It is over an hour’s drive from my home to the Hauser and Wirth gallery on the edge of Bruton. This is a branch of an international gallery chain; the impressive buildings are both traditional and modern, the coffee is excellent and so is the restaurant yet how much is photography understood here? A blanket ban on photography in the galleries is more or less to be expected in the milieu of the art world where images have considerable currency.
The Don Mc Cullin exhibition runs alongside another exhibition in which a couple of noted photographers are being exhibited. One of these is James Ravilious who has a show of woodland images that were commissioned work by Common Ground who are now lending the work. There are also photographs of dew ponds by Jem Southam that are large format prints made on dullish days. The power of these photographs is in their subdued non-invasive nature; images that can be looked at and enjoyed for their own sake. Mc Cullin has also photographed dew ponds but his work is quite different and he presents them with much more added drama.
Mc Cullin’s work is in a separate gallery called the Bourgeois Gallery yet his subject matter is far from bourgeois! Don Mc Cullin is described as a photojournalist and says “For me photography was originally nothing to do with war, it was to do with the beautiful”. It is his war photography for which he is best known.
This is a retrospective exhibition of Don Mc Cullin’s work. He joined the services as a teenager and soon worked in a capacity as a photographer; later he worked for leading newspapers and magazines.
The first image is a photograph of a gang in London, taken at the request of the gang members featured. menacing suited figures stare down from a house under construction.
There is also the iconic image of a shell-shocked soldier which reflects the nature of war on the psyche.
Although Don Mc Cullin is known for his social documentary work he has also made quite a lot of landscape images which I first saw about 20 years ago and which still interest me since they are of the county in which I live but not very representative of that county. His landscapes tend to be printed very dark with high contrast and were made during course of his career. They can be seen as a kind of consolation as a result of being a war photographer, possessing an underlying tension although contemplative and projecting the photographer’s mood. In fact, one might consider the landscapes as being more about him than the place; he is adding an element of drama so that the images have a constructed feel.
Another aspect of the Mc Cullin’s work is the captioning that explains the subject but not the individuals within them; it more about the situation we are faced with in relation to the world of that time.
A prize exhibit is the Nikon camera that took a bullet and so saved Mc Cullin’s life. Fortunately, he lived to present his remarkable body of work to the world.
A link to a recent article/interview with Don Mc Cullin
There has also been an OCA discussion HERE (need to be a registered OCA student to access this!)