Shaped by War, Pictorial Biography of Don McCullin, book review

Shaped by War, Don McCullin

At the start this book briefly explores McCullin's childhood and his experience in the Royal Air Force and the subsequent entry into a career in photojournalism. Shaped by War then concentrates on that phase of McCullins' life. He had to learn the skills in the field but eventually had a long association with the Sunday Times Magazine - the book is the same size as the magazine so that the stories McCullin illustrated can be shown in their original format.

He writes simply but movingly about his personal conflict with the way he earned his living for most of his career. He describes how he has often felt that taking photographs was a denial of his humanity and that he should be doing more to help the distressed.

Sensitive and moving photographs of conflict and disaster

His photographic work belies his doubts as it demonstrates the sensitivity of McCullin, the man, and it shows in the many iconic images that will move all but the hardest of hearts. Most, but not all, the photographs used in the book are by Don McCullin. Others, mostly of McCullin, are by friends and colleagues and are essential to properly carry the story of the man forward.

Many of McCullins photographs are well known but McCullin describes the lesser known ones that move him and why. McCullins photographs are sensitive. They are not gratuitous and do not seek to glamorise war. They are mostly respectful of both the dead and living . As always in Shaped by War McCullin‘s text is honest even when describing the images he was uncomfortable taking or being critical of own his motivation at the time.

A personal biography of a working life amidst chaos and violence

This is the autobiography of Don McCullins working life and how it shaped the man. Most importantly it shows he found his passion and followed at considerable risk , physical and mental, to himself. He survived and now continues to produce fine photography free of those inner demons. It only touches lightly on McCullin's personal life away from photography, just enough to provide the context to the main story.

Shaped by War is an excellent and well presented guide to the photographer and the man. It does Don McCullin, man and photographer, justice. He may not be keen to acknowledge his importance to photography, journalism and humanity.But this reviewer can.

Shaped by War (2010, ISBN: 9780224090261) is published in large format hardback by Jonathan Cape in association with the Imperial War Museum at £25.    

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