Home > combat camera, don mccullin, james nachtwey, writing > “A bit of a contradiction in many ways”

“A bit of a contradiction in many ways”

February 9, 2010 Leave a comment Go to comments

It seems that these days, it’s all Don McCullin, all the time, but I suppose that’s what happens when you publish a career retrospective and have a major show the Imperial War Museum. Today I found a gallery of McCullin’s photography at the Telegraph, and a feature on McCullin at the Scotsman. The interview, although written in a gossipy, tabloid style, is interesting.

(For example, “delicious defiance?” What kind of nonsense is this? The interviewer eventually embarks on expiration of McCullin’s extramarital affairs, complete with moronic surprise that a man who had witnessed suffering could inflict suffering on his own family, etc. At that point, you can pretty much stop reading. Someone please put this interviewer out of our misery. End digression.)

McCullin is interesting because he is openly conflicted. His statements are contradictory. He says he doesn’t want to be remembered as a war photographer, but at the same time he has published a career retrospective and is giving dozens of interviews on his legacy as a war photographer. His burden of guilt and regret has not led him to destroy his negatives. To some, this would indicate that he is insincere, or that his public statements mask some consistent, secret self but he refuses to let us see. This is nonsense, of course; humans are contradictory. When what we say fails to align with what we do, it’s because the angels of our better nature have lost out to nobody’s angel. It doesn’t mean we’re insincere or disingenuous. It doesn’t mean we have something to hide.

When I started work on Combat Camera, I was fascinated by James Nachtwey. Here we have a figure who consistently appears to shine with commitment and purpose. The question to me, the question that initially defined Lucas Zane as a character, was what happens to that figure of commitment and purpose when he wakes up one morning and finds he has lost his faith. Zane was conceived as an anti-Nachtwey.

But this was unsatisfying. It came off as a caricature. It was when I looked at McCullin, when I examined his contradictions, that Zane really came to life for me. This is not to say that Lucas saying is based on McCullin, and certainly not in the direct way that Philip Caputo based his character Nick DelCorso on him. Zane bears little resemblance to McCullin in his background, his aims, is thinking about photography, and certainly not in his rather precarious mental state. But the broad-brush notion of the former war photographer attempting to repudiate his past while at the same time refusing to let go is certainly where Zane originated.

I think that a fictional character should be, to quote McCullin in the Scotsman interview, “a bit of a contradiction in many ways.”

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