Don McCullin & Fiona Yaron-Field – Thoughts after an OCASA Study Visit

This is a belated write up of two events on the 7th and 8th of February.  The first on Friday was watching McCullin a documentary on the life and work of Don McCullin, described by the RPS as “one of the greatest photographers of conflict of the modern age.” * with photographs that “document human conflict and grief with compassion through his own moral code.”*

I’ve always been fascinated by his work and his drive to show the darkest side of events, particularly conflicts and  was prompted to get the film as a result of seeing a brief recent Alfred Dunhill interview with him (  In this he questions what good his photographs have done and states that he does not wish to be remembered as a war photographer but rather for his, current, landscape shots of the Somerset countryside as he thinks his earlier time as a photographer was wasted.  In this brief interview, as I think in all the interviews with him, the impact of the horrors he has witnessed is obvious – both in his descriptions and (it would appear to me) physically in his haunted look.

The next day I went to the study visit in Thatcham to hear Fiona Yaron-Field.  While Fiona had a talk mapped out she was very willing to move away from this and discuss in a frank and very personal way (for instance how her own experience of marriage had influenced the wedding shots she had taken in Israel – which emphasised the buying and selling of the bride and, to a degree, how this affected the bride in question) her photography and what motivated it.

This photography includes the series she has undertaken on Down’s Syndrome strongly featuring her daughter  but featuring others as well in what is series of strong yet compassionate images.  Those others, in the series entitled Safe Haven, include expectant mothers who are aware that their bay has Down’s Syndrome.

If you have not already done so, please visit Fiona’s website:-

So why I have mentioned McCullin in conjunction with what was a wonderfully frank and open discussion (as opposed to the more formal talk I thought it was going to be) with Fiona?.

What is relevant about McCullin is that at the start  of the discussion Fiona discussed how she was motivated/influenced  to undertake the style of photography – described later by her (and in this interview on Youtube:- ) as “concerned photography”.  She explained that following on from a visit to London in relation to a Amnesty International  group she had formed at school/college to pass some time it was suggested that the students visit a nearby photographic exhibition.  The exhibition was by Don McCullin of his photographs of the Biafra famine crisis.  In particular Fiona mentioned the photo McCullin took of the albino boy:-


Starving nine-year-old Ibo albino boy, Biafra 1969 © Don McCullin, Contact Press Images.

While, by his own admission, McCullin was a “war junkie” he nevertheless took photographs that were designed to show true images of man’s inhumanity to man, arguably another form of concerned photography – albeit as a result of McCullin’s addiction to being in these extreme situations.  Without these photos we would not have seen what was happening in these conflicts (and its interesting to compare this with the sanitised shots arising from the Falkland’s conflict, which McCullin was not selected to cover – only government sanctioned photographers were,- just check Google images for the Falklands War.)

Similarly Fiona’s photos show, both in her photos of those affected by Downs Syndrome and the pictures of the Israeli and Palestinian subjects of  Beyond the Wall, issues that we, as a viewer, would not normally consider.   Granted her photos are not as harrowing as those of McCullins but I feel that like him she is seeking to inform us, and make us think about, something we would not otherwise be aware of.

I  wonder if Mr McCullin would still consider his time covering wars and famines wasted given the influence it has had on Fiona, Tom Stoddart** and, I have no doubt, other photographers

*



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