Art News

Feature

Photo Mail online magazine
brings out special news about
Photography and allied art forms
National/International Photography
Exhibitions, Technique, Product updates
Opportunities
as well as featured reports and
Events

Together
Let us
Discuss, Debate, Define
The Art of Photography

Don McCullin
Photographer Don McCullin | Image Source Internet

Unreasonable Behaviour

Biopic of a war photographer

We hate to look at his pictures, but we have to. McCullin is the eye we cannot shot.

– John Berger

Actor-film maker Angelina Jolie has announced that she would direct a biopic about wartime photographer Don McCullin based on his best-selling autobiography Unreasonable Behaviour, first published in 2002.

Undoubtedly, Don McCullin is one of our greatest living photo-journalists. From the construction of the Berlin Wall through every conflict up to the Falklands War, Don McCullin has left a trail of iconic images. These trails weren’t made without risks – he had the courage to venture out to the troubled lands which put him on the line of fire several times. In 1968, his Nikon camera stopped a bullet intended for him; in 1972 he spent four days in a Ugandan prison, where every morning Idi Amin’s lorries would take corpses to the Nile to feed to the crocodiles; In 1982 the British Government refused to grant McCullin a press pass to cover the Falklands War, claiming the boat was full, probably because the Thatcher government felt his images might be too disturbing politically. Nonetheless, his sensational works projecting the realities of war is said to have contributed substantially to the growth of anti-war sentiments among the public.

Following an impoverished north London childhood blighted by Hitler’s bombs and the early death of his father, McCullin was called up for National Service with the RAF. After postings to Egypt, Kenya, and Cyprus he returned to London armed with a twin reflex Rolleicord camera and began photographing friends from a local gang named The Guv’nors. The photograph titled The Guvnors in their Sunday Suits shot in a bombed-out building was published by the Observer in 1958 and brought him recognition and commission opportunities. His assignment in Berlin to photograph the building of the Wall secured his contract with The Observer in 1961. In 1961 he won the British Press Award for his essay on the construction of the Berlin Wall. Soon his commissions took him around the world, starting with the Cyprus War in 1964, which began his career as a war photographer. He covered the armed eruption of ethnic and nationalistic tension, winning a World Press Photo Award for his effort. He then moved to The Sunday Times Magazine, where his assignments included covering Biafra, the Belgian Congo, the Northern Irish ‘Troubles’, Bangladesh, and the Lebanese civil wars. His photographs from the wars in Vietnam and Cambodia are among the most famous and well-recognized. In 1993 he was the first photojournalist to be awarded a CBE.

Don McCullin also took photographs of Maryon Park in London which were used in Michelangelo Antonioni’s film Blowup. Also in 1968, on 28 July, he was invited to photograph the Beatles, then at the height of their fame and in the midst of recording The White Album. These sessions, made at several London locations, have become known as The Mad Day Out. They contain many well-known images of the band, including the gatefold sleeve picture from the Red and Blue compilations, where the Beatles mingled with the crowd seen through railings. The photographs from this day were published in the 2010 book A Day in the Life of the Beatles.

1 Youths vs British Troops at the height of the Troubles © Don McCullin, Belfast 1971 | 2 Early morning, West Hartlepool © Don McCullin, England 1963 | 3 A Turkish wife learns of her husband’s death © Don McCullin Cyprus, 1964 | Image Source Internet

From the early 1980s increasingly he focused his foreign adventures on more peaceful matters. He traveled extensively through Indonesia, India, and Africa returning with powerful essays on places and people. He also has been chronicling the English countryside – in particular the landscapes of Somerset – and creating meticulously constructed still lifes all to great acclaim. “I had long been uncomfortable with my label of war photographer, which suggested an almost exclusive interest in the suffering of other people. I knew I was capable of another voice”, Don had said.  However, many had criticized that his landscapes too looks like war. “I am a photographer, not an artist, and I don’t make art” he repeatedly iterates. Don continues to be attracted to photograph war. In October 2015, Don traveled to Kurdistan in northern Iraq to photograph the Kurds’ three-way struggle with ISIS, Syria, and Turkey.

Angelina Jolie has been developing her career as an anti-war filmmaker and a bio-pic about Don McCullin will be a deal-breaker. To be titled Unreasonable Behavior after McCullin’s autobiography, the film will be centered around his coverage of international conflicts. Actor Tom Hardy will portray the role. BAFTA-nominated screenwriter Gregory Burke (’71) wrote the Unreasonable Behaviour script, with additional production being handled by Tim Bevan and Eric Fellner (Darkest Hour). McCullin will be actively involved in its production as the executive producer. Unreasonable Behaviour marks Jolie’s fifth scripted feature as a director, following In the Land of Blood and Honey (2011), By the Sea (2015), First They Killed My Father (2017), and 2014 blockbuster Unbroken, which went on to receive three Oscar nods atop of grossing $115 million at the domestic box office.

In the political systems, as they exist, we have no legal opportunity to effectively influencing the conduct of wars waged in our name. To realize this and to act accordingly is the only effective way of responding to what the photograph shows. Yet the double violence of the photographed moment actually works against this realization.

– John Berger

Don McCullin and his works have received quite a lot of criticism as well. English art critic John Berger had pointedly asked, “What effects do such (photographs of agony) have?.” In recent years, the world of Photo-Journalism has received a lot of criticism, especially about the ethics of representation. There are a certain demand and fame that comes with haunting images of war and poverty. It is as if, the more violent and sensational an image is, the more it is viewed and circulated – and even though it has raised awareness about what’s happening around the world – photographs of war have made only a little difference. The photographers themselves are not devoid of such concerns. Once Don McCullin commented, “Looking back, it served no purpose, my life. I doubt whether I have made any difference. It is as if I am preaching to the converted.”

Commerce apart, hopefully, Angeline Jolie’s biopic about Don McCullin, his life, contributions, challenges, and dilemmas provokes some dialogues, not only about the horrors of war, but also the ethics of war photography. The release date of the film is yet to be announced.

By Tulsi Swarna Lakshmi | Published on February 4, 2021

Share

Home » Unreasonable Behaviour, biopic of a war photographer

Related News

Remembering David McCabe, the photographer who documented “A Year in the Life of Andy Warhol”

By |March 30th, 2021|

British fashion photographer David McCabe died on 26th Feb 2021. Although his photographs published in in the Life, Harper's Bazaar, W, French Elle, French Vogue, and The Times had brought him fame, he is much remembered for his photographs of Andy Warhol becoming Warhol.

In a first, the Kerala Lalithakala Akademi has opened its exhibition grant to photographers. One recipient Devarajan Devan’s Poojyam opens today at Kozhikode

By |February 8th, 2021|

One of the first Lalithakala Akademi exhibition grant recipients is young photographer Devarajan Devan. He says he became a photographer by chance, some five years ago. But once he has gotten into it, there is no looking back. He is basically a commercial event photographer with an interest in street photography, a well-trodden path introduced by the likes of Henri-Cartier Bresson. The show from the grant, Poojyam (Zero) is opening today, 8th February at Lalithakala Akademi Kozhikode. This would be Devarajan’s first photography exhibition. Here is an exclusive interview with Devarajan Devan, taken by Rahul Menon. 

I AM NOT MADE IN JAPAN, Nikon to Reportedly Stop Making Cameras in Japan

By |December 23rd, 2020|

Japanese camera maker Nikon has been struggling with a diminishing demand for its cameras. So bad the situation of the camera giant that it is now being reported that the company may pull the plug on making cameras in Japan, something the company has been doing for more than 70 years. The report of Nikon shutting down manufacturing in Japan comes from a local newspaper called Asahi.

$12 in 1948, $1000000 in 2020, Ansel Adam’s print sold by Sotheby for record price

By |December 23rd, 2020|

Sotheby has made record sales of Ansel Adams prints giving a rather ceremonious end to the challenging year. ‘A Grand Vision: The David H. Arrington Collection of Ansel Adams Masterworks’ comprised of 123 prints by Ansel Adams, and the complete set was put up for auction this December 14. Interestingly, 94% of the collection were successfully sold to buyers both in person at Sotheby’s New York and online. A mural-sized print, ‘The Grand Tetons and the Snake River, Grand Teton National Park, Wyoming’, sold for a record-high for an Ansel Adams print, closing at $988,000 USD.

Pandemic Paradox, Indian Art 2020

By |December 20th, 2020|

The world of art and culture is one of the hardest-hit sectors. The already limited support structure for artists and art/cultural organisations in India has dwindled further, pushing many to oblivion. The coronavirus outbreak and subsequent nationwide lockdown did affect almost all art practitioners, but then, the scale of impact was different for different sectors. Performance artists and photographers received the first line of bullets, with curtains down on live performances and mobility curtailed for photography assignments. Even within this, there were increased vulnerabilities because of one’s age (young, mid-career, and senior), location (rural or urban), networking possibilities, social and family support lines etc.

Four Indian Photographers recognized by World Press Photo

By |December 17th, 2020|

World Press Photo announced the results of the second cycle, 6 new talents from Asia that includes four Indians, Debsuddha Banerjee; Deepti Asthana; Santanu Dey, and Sutirtha Chatterjee. The other two recognition goes to Mengwen Cao, China, and Parisa Azadi. In 2018, Senthil Kumaran, an independent visual storyteller from South India, and New Delhi based Saumya Khandelwal, who is now a part of the nomination team were recognized as 6×6 young talents.

Forgotten Treasure: Longest exposed pinhole photograph

By |December 13th, 2020|

What if you set-up a make-shift pinhole camera, and forget all about it? And, find it some 8 years later still intact. It gets better. What if you find that it has been working till then, waiting for someone to close its shutter? With eight years and one-month long exposure, this could be the longest photographic exposure ever made.

2021-06-06T17:29:12+05:30
Go to Top