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The Landscape

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The morning I arrive at McCullin’s old limestone farmhouse, where he lives with his wife Catherine Fairweather, he has been up since dawn, looking out at the valley beyond his front windows to see if the sky will change. In theory, the subject matter couldn’t be further away from some of his most famous pictures – grieving women during the civil war in Cyprus, a shell-shocked US soldier in Vietnam, rough sleepers in east London, the war in Lebanon – but there is an affinity between the two sides of his work. This new collection mixes recent with past work, showing how no one has ever been able to accuse McCullin of wielding a frivolous camera. He is still sharp in his 80s, and teases people with gallows humor, cracking jokes about his own death.

The 103 third parties who use cookies on this service do so for their purposes of displaying and measuring personalized ads, generating audience insights, and developing and improving products. McCullin’s West Country is not far removed from the East Anglia of Constable’s Dedham Vale two centuries earlier.

McCullin first saw Goya’s Black Paintings on a visit to the Prado in Madrid in the early 1980s and was shocked to find a painter who ‘saw what I saw. In part, he thinks, it’s because his body is starting to break down – he is strong for his age but becoming frail nonetheless: he suffers from arthritis, the darkroom chemicals are starting to make his chest wheeze – but it’s also an after-effect of the major retrospective he staged at Tate Britain last year. Looking forward to the valley of the tombs which Isis have destroyed, Palmyra, Syria 2016Don McCullin is one of the most important war photographers of the late 20th century, best known for his broad reportage and critical social documentation.

In a split second under fire, some people wouldn’t bother, but I’ve stood up in battles and put up the exposure meter first, because I’m not going to get killed for an underexposed negative.In his photo, the pond is a silver disc, shining out beneath a lowering sky; today, it’s bright blue, a dot of stillness among the muddy winter fields. This summer, McCullin’s hugely successful retrospective, which opened at Tate Britain last year, travels to Tate Liverpool. Not far from here is the probable site of the Battle of Edington, where King Alfred repelled an army of Vikings. He has documented Roman ruins in North Africa and the Levant, including the recent deliberate destruction of the ancient site of Palmyra in Syria by ISIS. The book also features landscape images from throughout his career taken in Syria, Iraq, Indonesia and India.

Unsurprisingly, a darkness pervades the images, and he says some people are confused about whether he is trying to frighten them or bring them pleasure. His ominous skies and ever-present water – ponds, rivers, saturated fields, the flooded Somerset Levels – hint at the destructive power of our climate, too. McCullin’s photos helped create the visual language of suffering that pervades media culture in our own century, from humanitarian appeals to modern-day refugee crises. What they don’t understand is that what was once a great country which stole other people’s resources by colonising, [no longer has] that choice any more to steal from other countries. Having been evacuated to the safety of Somerset during the Blitz, McCullin has had a lifelong connection with the open farmland and hill country of the South West, feeling at peace within the solitude of the expansive landscape.It’s slightly flooded but not saturated so that when the light’s hitting it it’s like a silver landscape, but it was no good with the sky that’s been going on here for the last five days. The thing about mythology is that it’s heavily overloaded; most stories over time have been packed with embellishment.

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