The BBC has an interview with the celebrated war photographer Don McCullin, who once said that he “used to chase wars like a drunk chases a can of lager,” and is best known to the public perhaps for his harrowing photographs from Biafra. McCullin left war photography behind and is now known for his landscape work, and also for recent work on AIDS in Africa. He’s ambivalent about his fame:
… a very famous war photographer – an American – said … ‘I’m going to be the next Don McCullin.’ And quite honestly, he’s welcome to be where I was, he can’t be me; but anybody’s welcome to those laurels; they’re rather kind of worn out and faded, those laurels; they’ve gone.
Elsewhere, he has said that he considers his career to have been a waste, and that his photographs had no impact on the world.
How much his past still haunts him seems open to question:
I published a book a few years ago and I called it, Sleeping with Ghosts, because I know that when I’m in my house and I’m down one end of it asleep, down the other end there’s all these filing cabinets with this raucous noise going on down there. I mean, obviously it sounds to you as though I’m slightly barking, but I’m not. I’m totally in control of myself, and hopefully, I’ll try and play some part in my destiny. But I know that living in that house, there is some mischief going on, down where those filing cabinets lie. You can’t have that material, that energy in a house or in a place, without something going on down there.
The interview is definitely worth reading, or listening to.
So is this one:
… working for media involves manipulation. I have been manipulated, and I have in turn manipulated others, by recording their response to suffering and misery. So there is guilt in every direction: guilt because I don’t practice religion, guilt because I was able to walk away, while this man was dying of starvation or being murdered by another man with a gun. And I am tired of guilt, tired of saying to myself : “I didn’t kill that man on that photograph, I didn’t starve that child.”
Four years ago, the Guardian did a good profile of McCullin, which is also worth reading.