Don McCullin’s London

Actual paid journalism alert, with this review I did for the Independent On Sunday about the Don McCullin exhibition at the Imperial War Museum North. McCullin is probably the world’s greatest photographer.

Although it takes place in Manchester and only comes to the London branch of the IWM next year, Londoners should check it out if they get a chance as there are a number of great London photographs featured. McCullin was born in Finsbury Park and says in the accompanying book, ‘Shaped By War’ ‘like all my generation in London, I am a product of Hitler. I was born in the thirties and bombed in the forties.’ 

McCullin  is an engaging writer. Finsbury Park, we are told, ‘oozed poverty, bigotry and all kinds of hatred and violence. It was preparing me for something I didn’t know was coming.’

His breakthrough photograph was this evocative London image. It shows seven of McCullin’s schoolfriends, moody young thugs from the Seven Sisters Road posing in a bombed-out house opposite the Rainbow in Finsbury Park. One of them later killed a policeman. McCullin sold the snap to the Observer and his career began.

Although war became his arena, McCullin also took extraordinary domestic photographs. Here, those two worlds collide with two photographs of anti-war demonstrations in London from the 1960s.

Also on display is a brilliant photo of a newly arrived West Indian, dapper and outwardly confident, in north London from 1958. At the exhibition, you can compare this with a picture of two assertive young Asian Londoners in Brick Lane taken in 2007. So much change, but so much stays the same.

Understandably, there is nothing in the exhibition about McCullin’s work with the London homeless in 1989. On this subject, there is this remarkable image by McCullin taken in Spitafields in the 1960s. It’s like a still from ‘The London Nobody Knows’ crossed with a painting by Francis Bacon.

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4 responses to “Don McCullin’s London

  1. Pingback: War (museums), what are they good for? « The Great Wen

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