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.