Tuesday, 9 February 2010

Shaped by War: Photographs by Don McCullin @ IWMN

I should probably preface what you are about to read with a word on my viewing habits. In many ways I’m a bit old fashioned. I wandered around this exhibition steadfastly ignoring the multimedia displays and just looked at the photographs. Does this mean I may have missed out on some precious nuance to the exhibition? Possibly.

Much of the photography featured in Shaped by War: Photographs by Don McCullin at Imperial War Museum North is almost deliciously beautiful and evocative. There is a depth and velvet richness to McCullin's black and white photographs that is reminiscent of the inky generosity of mezzotint. The genius of the master-craftsman is evident in the way pain, anger and sorrow is so carefully framed in these truly emotive images.

Beyond the horrifying moments that these photographs portray, there is a somewhat unsettling interplay between their substance and meaning. It is as though the artistic brilliance of these photographs reveals the fallacy of the documentary photographer. It would be wrong to ascribe these photographs a morality or clarity of purpose beyond any other method of depicting a scene. The documentary is not an unbiased beast, like an essay it is the application of an argument to a subject - I feel as though this needs to be kept in mind when looking at Don McCullin’s photographs.

Undoubtedly, an exhibition of startlingly brilliant photography.

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