Wednesday, 30 April 2008

Profile: Don McCullin

Steel foundry at West Hartlepool in 1963 - Image by Don McCullin

Don McCullin is one of the most iconic photographers of the 20th century, although he probably wouldn't like to be regarded as such. His story is even more remarkable when you consider that he went into a career as a photographer by accident, and not by choice.

McCullin found an interest in photography during his national service with the Royal Air force but after he left the RAF, his interest waned until he was asked by a local east end gang to photograph them. The well composed image shows the gang called 'The Guvnors' posed, all of them in smart suits, against the backdrop of a bombed out building. A few months after the gang's photo had been taken, a policeman was killed nearby in one of the gangland disputes that some of the photographed gang had been involved with. The image was used by the Observer newspaper as part of its coverage of the story. The photograph was to launch Don McCullin into a career as a newspaper photographer that would see him photograph some of the worst places on earth.

McCullin's time at the Observer saw him win the World Year press award for 1964 with his images of the conflict raging in Cyprus, but the photographer had his eye on The Sunday Times; the newspaper had been transformed during the sixties from an old fashioned paper into a modern young looking newspaper with a colour magazine. For McCullin, they were the ultimate paper to work for and he would stay with the paper for eighteen years. It would be the Sunday Times magazine that would give McCullin the perfect canvas to show his work to the world.

Probably his best work of the 1960's, was in Vietnam where McCullin's images of the U.S Marines battling the Viet Cong in Hue showed the true terrifying nature of an urban battle. Hue was the cultural capital of Vietnam, a Cambridge and Oxford all rolled into one, but large parts of the city were destroyed by artillery and rockets within a matter of days. McCullin managed to capture the wars affect on both sides with an image of a shell shocked marine and a haunting photograph of a dead Viet Cong soldier, his personal belongings scattered around him. Regardless of the fact that this was an 'enemy' soldier, McCullin's image gave that man a life, an identity and a family.

McCullin has always remained a compassionate photographer despite the various conflicts he has worked in. This is his biggest strength and the reason why his images work so well forty years on. The wars change but the reaction on the faces of the soldiers don't. His work in South East Asia included time spent in Cambodia, where McCullin would be injured during an Khmer Rouge ambush that killed several Cambodian paratroopers. Loaded aboard a vehicle full of wounded, he was horrified to find that the truck went back towards the area of the ambush. After a period that seemed like hours, the truck eventually made its way to hospital where the photographer remained until he was removed to another hospital and then sent home. During his time recovering from his wounds, McCullin started to think about a photography project that would document the people of the UK; some of whom lived in the most deprived areas of the country.

The images taken around the UK during the 1970's by Don McCullin went on the form the book 'Homecoming' that was released in 1979. The images are often have a bleak view of Britain but the characters shine through in the images. He was only photographing what he saw and often it would reflect his own poor upbringing. The U.K was undergoing a social and economic change not seen since the end of the war, and McCullin's images reflected this transition. Many of the photographs looked at those who were at the edge of society; the old, the homeless, the ill and the poor. His images were dark and, for some, too dark in nature. Was that the Britain we lived in? Yes; but the photographs home in on the part that we choose to ignore. Those without a voice or representation.

Don McCullin continued to photograph for the Sunday Times until the mid 1980's when the new media barons started to change the face of British newspapers forever. The editors started to focus away from the human interest story and go with the celebrity stories that have become part of our modern culture....sadly! After various problems at his paper, McCullin decided to quit in 1984 and go freelance. He has remained an important photographic figure even after he quit war photography. To say he is just a war photographer is just unfair. His current work includes landscapes, portraits and still life; in all of these photographic areas he has displayed a unique style. He still continues to photograph certain photojournalism projects but remains active in all areas of photography. His images have come at a cost. McCullin's books often put across the fact that he is haunted by his war images. He may have taken images away from the conflicts he visited, but in turn, the conflicts have taken something from him.

All images by Don McCullin
Top left - The Guvnors - 1959
Middle right - Shell shocked marine, Hue 1968
Middle left - Dead Vietcong with belongings, Hue 1968
bottom right - An Irish vagrant
- London's East End

Books
Don McCullin has released several books including an excellent autobiography called 'Unreasonable Behaviour'. Some others include:

Homecoming
Sleeping with Ghosts
In England

Links

Don McCullin at the V&A

Tuesday, 29 April 2008

Second look


Back in late September i launched version 6 of the Richard Flint Photography website; the first version to stand up to the test of time. I still love the website's look and design. So far it has developed rather nicely with further work planned for the portfolio and art print sales sections.

These last few days has seen some minor refinement work take place. Nothing too noticeable, but important enough to affect the overall look of the website. That bit wasn't too bad but the next stage will be more time consuming - the portfolios.

A number of the portfolios are to be rebuilt, just the gallery bits and not the web pages, but it will be quite an undertaking nevertheless. The number of images for the Norfolk project alone is colossal and increasing every year. The main delay to the Norfolk 07 gallery has been working out how to show SO many images; both colour and black & white. In a couple of months time, I'll probably have another fifty new images to add to the gallery!!!

My favourite bit of the website? The blog's integration into the main website is something I'm rather proud of. It's still being developed and refined but its a nice addition to this current website.

Sunday, 27 April 2008

Dinas Bran

Castell Dinas Bran near Llangollen in Wales

These images of Dinas Bran castle were taken in the summer of 2003. Dinas Bran was a medieval stronghold and has been connected to the story of the holy grail. The name, Dinas Bran, has been translated into various meanings but the most common version is Crow castle -rather apt when you see the ruins towering high over the Dee valley, north east of Llangollen.


Both photographs were taken on two seperate evenings, just a short walk from where i was staying. The castle, although in ruins, still cuts an impressive dominating presence across the valley and is the location of many myths and stories. Of the two photos, i think the black and white is the more atmospheric but I rather like the mist near the ruins on the colour image, and if you look very closely, you will notice five people up near the ruins on the right hand side of the summit. I only noticed them recently :-)

Thursday, 24 April 2008

In the mud...

harbour wall at Scarborough

Over the years I've read and heard some really good stories about photographers and equipment related incidents. One of the best was the photographer who accidentally pushed his brand new digital camera, that was mounted on a tripod, off a cliff while searching for a lens in his bag. Another story describes how a camera bag was dragged a few miles before the photographer realised what was happening. He'd put the bag on the boot (trunk for any Americans reading this) of the car, gone to collect something else and forgot about the bag. The Billingham bag strap had hooked onto the car's tow bar and was dragged for quite a distance; the bag was wrecked but the camera equipment remained intact inside.

The closest I've come to a disaster was in the summer of 2005 when my Nikon F4s ended up in a Norfolk harbour - me with it! I'd seen a shot and was making my way when sand turned to mud which, in turn, became deeper and stickier. I lost my balance and the camera ended up in the mud with the lens facing upwards. I can tell you that you get a sick feeling when you see your camera embedded in a muddy harbour! Fortunately the camera had rubber seals around the eyepiece and back which kept the mud at bay, otherwise it might well have killed the F4. Later on I was able to strip the camera down into it's various pieces and clean it thoroughly. Within a couple of hours it looked as good as new and the camera is still going strong today. Yippee!

As for me? well i probably looked like the monster from the black lagoon as i emerged from that harbour. I probably smelt just as bad too. Not nice stuff harbour mud!

Tuesday, 22 April 2008

Polarised light

Harvested and baled field in late summer

Another image discovered in the vast collection of negatives i'm sorting through at the moment.

This image was taken during the summer of 2006. It was taken using a Nikon F3HP with a Nikkor 35mm wideangle lense. A Cokin polarising filter was used to bring out the sky detail.

Monday, 21 April 2008

Coals to Newcastle

Couple walk alongside the A167 - Newcastle

I'm still pondering about what lens to buy. There is just so much choice that it makes your head spin thinking about it. So far I'm in favour of getting a wideangle zoom - i know i can have lots of fun with that over the summer.

This is another image from the Newcastle series of images that i hope to continue sometime during the summer. For those who aren't familiar with the geography of the UK, Newcastle is in the North east of England and was an important industrial centre for many years. Coal was king in the city and a vast rail network was built to distribute the fuel all over the UK and empire. Newcastle was the first port to start exporting coal in the UK.

Worldwide markets and the decline of British industry saw the economic landscape of Newcastle change forever but the city's impressive coal exporting exploits remains alive in the English language. The British phrase 'carry coals to Newcastle' is commonly used to mean doing something pointless and superfluous.

Saturday, 19 April 2008

Back on track

Train departing from Manchester Piccadilly station

The Transpennine route from Scarborough to Manchester is a rail journey that i got to know well during my student years. From 1994 to 1998 i used to travel this route on a semi regular basis; today i was on it again for the first time in ten years.

The photographer sat on the train today was very different from the photographer who sat doing a similar journey ten years ago. The two years of the photography degree had taken their toll. I was burnt out creatively and disillusioned with photography. Worst of all, the confidence i had to produce great images seemed to have gone. It had been shot to pieces and i just seemed to lack any direction.

A decade later (almost to the month!) i feel completely different about my work and the art of photography. It took a few years to be fully able to get that passion for photography back but it came back slowly. Some of that passion was reignited by digital photography, some of it was from a clearer and broader understanding of what photographic direction i should take. I'm certainly no longer that 'lost' photographer i was when i was 26, on a train heading to Manchester Piccadilly.

Friday, 18 April 2008

Rooftop level

Chimney pots and rooftops of Newcastle Upon Tyne

I half expected Dick van Dyke and a collection of Chimney sweeps to come dashing across the rooftops when i took this image. I think the photograph shows the true diversity of the architecture in Newcastle. Old is mixed with new and yet the industrial heritage of the city hasn't been compromised too much.

The thing i love the most are the high rail bridges than span over the streets below. There aren't that many places in the UK where the trains rattle above your head as you walk along the street. The bridge on the far right of the image takes trains right into Newcastle central station, a classic Victorian railway station with beautiful architecture.

Wednesday, 16 April 2008

S-21

Unidentified Prisoner 1975-1979 : photograph © the Tuol Sleng Museum

The photograph above looks like a simple portrait but as the numbered tag so obviously indicates, this image was taken in a prison - Tuol Sleng, a secret prison in Phnom Penh used by the Khmer Rouge and codenamed S-21.

For four years from 1975 -1979, the prison acted as an interrogation area where prisoners would be questioned about the crimes they had committed. The age range of prisoners was broad; children feature in several the images as well as mothers with their babies. Virtually all were probably innocent of the crimes they were charged with carrying out. The prison did not just have Cambodian inmates; foreign prisoners were also taken there including four Americans, three French, a Briton and a New Zealander. In the later years, the prison would deal with Khmer Rouge officials who had fallen out with the regime as the Khmer Rouge started to turn on itself.

At S-21 meticulous records were kept on the prisoners and this included a photograph. This collection of images is estimated to have contained 30,000 images - one image for each prisoner. From this number around 6000 negatives have survived. Many of the images are just simple portraits like the one above. Others show the battered faces of those who have been interrogated before being photographed. All of the photographs show faces that contain a dark foreboding, a stunned, sad resignation visible in the eyes. The vast majority of the individuals photographed did not survive.

The collection of just some of the images, taken during the most dark, disturbing and bloody period of Cambodia's history, can be viewed at http://www.tuolsleng.com/

Related links

Monday, 14 April 2008

Tea for five

People queue in the rain outside Betty's Cafe in York

What is it about the British and tea? That brown liquid that has kept the UK ticking over for hundreds of years or so. On Sunday it was raining steadily but people still queued up to get into Betty's, a famous old fashioned Cafe/tearooms in York that reminds you of the good old days of refinement, superb food and quality service.

It is like going back seventy years when you arrive inside. It feels like a living, breathing film set/location like those used for those Agatha Christie TV adaptations. You can almost imagine seeing an elegantly dressed Poirot sat at the next table engrossed in the details of his next case

Sunday, 13 April 2008

On the river

A rowing team training on the river Ouse in York

Rain. Not the heavy downpour type of rain. No, just that thin rain that gradually makes you wetter and wetter without you noticing too much. Still, it was busy in town and on the river where this rather energetic looking image was taken.

I'm pleased with the result of the slow shutter speed. It gives a nice sense of movement but it doesn't always work that well. This image was taken with a speed of around 1/20th second. I just love the look on some of the faces; the guy on the extreme right is certainly working hard if his expression is anything to go by.

Saturday, 12 April 2008

The wider angle

Walking on the Tyne Bridge towards Newcastle Upon Tyne

If you could have only one lens to work with your entire life, what focal length would that lens be? 35mm? 105mm? 200mm? It sounds a daft question but I've noticed over the years that i take the vast majority of my images around the same focal length settings.

I'm a wideangle photographer mainly using 35mm or wider for a lot of my imagery. I just love the depth that you can get with a wideangle lens but others prefer telephotos, macro, super wideangle fisheye or just a standard 50mm lens to shoot the majority of their images.

My favourite is the Nikkor 35mm f2.0 which i use quite extensively but i 'm currently on the lookout for a wideangle zoom around the 18-35mm range. It should be interesting to see what i do with the wider angles available on that lens.

Thursday, 10 April 2008

Outgoing tide

The harbour at Blakeney on the north Norfolk coast, UK

The last week has seen me searching for somewhere to get prints done after my old Internet printing source ceased doing them. It's a tough decision selecting a new supplier. Like many things in this mad modern world, you are bombarded with company names, prices and most of all - services. The choice available on the Internet is just mind boggling!!! Anyhow, i finally picked one called snapfish that I'll use for low and medium priority work. I've had really great results so far.

I must admit that I'm looking forward to the summer and getting out to take some images. So far it looks like the Norfolk project will be continued again this year as well as the Northumberland project. I rather like having ongoing projects. Originally the Norfolk project was to only last five years but I've decided to do it for the foreseeable future. Places change with time and hopefully the images of the county will reflect that change. I still have a number of places that i would like to photograph including the village of Walsingham, a place of pilgrimage since the medieval era.

Sunday, 6 April 2008

The right light

A stroll along the harbour at Scarborough, North Yorkshire, UK

Bright warm days in February and cold, snowy days in April. And some people don't believe in climate change! :o) On a wet and cold day like today here in the UK, it's nice to remember that feeling of the sun on your face, you and your camera out and about taking photographs. Bliss!

Photography is definitely a therapeutic process with an almost spiritual quality. Some photographers even see it as a relationship, with highs and lows when images work or don't work. One thing is for sure. Once you get hooked it's difficult to stop.

Photography also has a few other interesting pyschological issues, the biggest of which is a common notion/wish with photographers - invisibility. The late photojournalist Philip Jones Griffiths, featured on this blog a few posts ago, once commented during a BBC interview in 2005 that:

"The only thing we photographers really want more than life, more than sex, more than anything, is to be invisible."

It's a mindset that many well known photographers including the Vietnam war photographer Larry Burrows have all mentioned. Most modern photojournalists would love to have the ability to view a situation without being seen. The invisible witness! What type of images could you create if you were invisible?

Snow way


An image taken about ten minutes ago, looking up the street where i live. Quite a downpour of snow here. It's rather deceptive when you look out the window, you certainly don't think it's coming down hard but once outside the camera and me got quite wet.

Friday, 4 April 2008

New world

Ayesha heading out to sea

Starting out as a professional photographer is very daunting but the ways and means of promoting your work has changed so much since i left university that it almost leaves me speechless.

These days photography students can start marketing themselves online and get a foothold on the professional ladder before they leave their course. Back when i was a student only a select handful of students had a website. Neither myself or any of my degree classmates had one, mainly due to cost, but all that has changed now with most students having at least one web page to promote their work. I just wish that we'd had the same opportunities ten years ago.

During 2007 i decided that i needed to create more of a presence online for the business. Little did i know that i would make some great friends along the way who are just as passionate about photography as I am.

One of the first ideas i had was starting a MySpace page in May 2007. At first I didn't really do anything with it, mainly because i didn't know where to start. During that brief period of inactivity i accumulated about five MySpace friends but soon, after inviting some photographers whose work i liked to be friends, i found that with a little effort i could raise that number quickly AND get some good friends too.

Currently my MySpace friends total stands at 611 but the number isn't important - it's the interaction with others, whose work continues to amaze me with its brilliance and quality, that's the important bit. There are some really talented people photographing in their own part of the world and posting it on their MySpace page for everyone to see. I've posted photographs and had comments within minutes about the images from the other side of the world. I still find that amazing.

Thursday, 3 April 2008

Bored!


As if to prove that kids get too many Easter holidays, this picture was found when walking back through the car park to the car. This poor chap looked like he couldn't think of a thing to do except lean up against a wall and wait for time to pass him by.

It a strange thing about school; you can't wait to be out on holiday but by the second week of holidays, you are almost in tears with boredom! Anyway he climbed over the wall and disappeared within a couple of minutes of taking this image. Maybe he'd finally thought of something to do.

Tuesday, 1 April 2008

Along for the ride

Scarborough fair - February 2008

Time for a splash of colour after a week or so of black and white images.

I just love this shot with the people and the blur of the fairground ride. It was taken on that beautiful Sunday morning back in late February when the unseasonal warm weather brought the masses to the coast.

The photographer in the foreground suddenly just appeared in the image, so rather than getting irritated, i decided to use him in the image. He did see me waiting but remained where he was was. Maybe he thought he wasn't in frame.
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