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Don McCullin: A Retrospective. first solo exhibition in Canada of world-renowned British photojournalist
Don McCullin, US marine throwing grenade, Tet Offensive, Hué, South Vietnam, February 1968. Gelatin silver print© Don McCullin / Contact Press Images.

OTTAWA.- For the first time ever, the National Gallery of Canada is organising an monographic exhibition dedicated to the work of a contemporary British photographer. Don McCullin: A Retrospective features a collection of 134 exceptional black-and-white photographs taken by McCullin, an unflinching photojournalist best known for his coverage of the world’s most dangerous conflict zones. His photographs have been published in major newspapers and magazines, including The Observer, The Sunday Times and The Daily Telegraph. McCullin has also created an important body of social documentary work and a series of lyrical landscapes in his native Britain. Several of these photographs are included in the exhibition, which will be on display until April 14, 2013 in the NGC’s Prints, Drawings and Photographs Galleries.

“McCullin's photographs belong in an art gallery because they consistently bring clarity and compositional grace to their compelling subject matter. These pictures are both hard to look at and hard not to.” said NGC director and CEO Marc Mayer.

Don McCullin: A Retrospective highlights works from all of McCullin’s major series: portraits of the poor and the homeless in London and northern England (1950s to 1980s); the construction of the Berlin Wall (1961); war and famine in Cyprus, the Congo, Biafra, Vietnam, Bangladesh, Cambodia, Lebanon and Northern Ireland (1964–1982); peoples of Southeast Asia and Africa (1988–2004); and landscapes in Somerset, England, and northern France (1970–2011). In this exhibition, the artist’s journey from working class England to the killing fields and to the landscape of Arthurian myth reveals his searing outrage and profound compassion. Also included are magazines and newspapers relating to past assignments.

McCullin covered war zones on four continents, primarily from the 1960s to the 1980s. His photographs from the battlefields belong to a tradition of war art practiced by Francisco de Goya, Otto Dix and photographer Robert Capa, artists who, like himself, sought to communicate in images the horrors of human conflict. Particularly compelling for their narrative depth, sombre lighting and powerful composition, McCullin’s photographs convey the intensity and intimacy of his human encounters. His landscapes, although also dark and brooding, speak to his desire to distance himself from the subject of human suffering.

Although, McCullin did travel to Syria recently for The Times on one final war assignment (these photographs are not included in the exhibition), his exposure to the worst human atrocities took such a toll on him that he more or less retreated from conflict zones beginning in the 1980s. McCullin does not like being called a war photographer. Nor does he think of himself as an artist, but rather as a photojournalist, or simply, a photographer. In her insightful essay in the exhibition catalogue, Sobey Curatorial Assistant Katherine Stauble writes of the war photographs: “Likely (these images) were not meant to hang on a gallery wall, but rather, to communicate information, to reveal truths and to mobilize action. Now that McCullin has escaped the battlefield and for the past twenty years has been focusing his lens on landscape and still life, one might expect the artist moniker to sit more comfortably with him.”

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