Compassion Fatigue : Exercise #1

Listen to Don McCullin talking about his exhibition Shaped by War on Radio 4’s Excess Baggage

What strikes me most after listening to the BBC broadcast and additionally reading and watching the video in this article HERE is McCullin’s sensitivity and humanity as he discusses his silent and quiet method of taking images of human suffering.

Brought up an a London slum he wanted an “escape route” from the narrow-minded area he was brought up in. Following his National Service within a photography unit he returned to London and got his break as a photographer with the Observer following a fracas resulting in a death near to where he lived . He has travelled extensively to war zones and in 1961 witnessed the building of the Berlin Wall. He describes the 1960’s 70’s and 80’s as the “golden years of travel” going to places that are inaccessible or extremely difficult to reach now.

He processes his own film and makes the interesting comment that he uses “energy combined with anger” to do so . His impotence to help the subjects he framed remains with him , he describes how “the plea bargaining in their eyes haunt me to this day” . Home is now his “sanctuary” and comments that “landscapes are my medication” . Yet his winter landscapes , like war , are bleak , which he believes come from “the darkness in me” . Even when photographing famous landmarks such as Hadrian’s Wall , or further afield , McCullin’s thinks about the “shadows of history ” and hears the “distant cries” of those forced to build them.

Anyone who has witnessed , as McCullin has , scenes of despair , cruelty and devastation cannot , if they have any compassion , fail to be shaped by the experience.


Accessed 5/11/15

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