I’d like to get away from the awful reputation of being a war photographer. I think, in a way, it’s parallel to calling me a kind of abattoir worker, somebody who works with the dead, or an undertaker or something. I’m none of those things. I went to war to photograph it in a compassionate way, and I came to the conclusion that it was a filthy, vile business. War—it was tragic, and it was awful, and I was witness to murder and terrible cruelty. So do I need a title for that? The answer is no, I don’t. I hate being called a war photographer. It’s almost an insult.
Naturally, I’m getting older and coming to the end of my life, so I’ve slowed down. I’ve reinvented myself. The reason I am doing these new landscapes … is because it’s a form of healing. I’m kind of healing myself. I don’t have those bad dreams. But you can never run away from what you’ve seen. I have a house full of negatives of all those hideous moments in my life in the past.
Don McCullin shoots landscapes now. He has for a while. He’s an old and haunted man and doesn’t do war anymore. Beautiful, dramatic and melancholic, his landscapes seem to be a way for him to both publicly and privately contend with his legacy and yet his intentions never seem to puncture his reputation as a hardened working-class man of war that is found in the minds of his admirers.
These images are inseparable from the decades of photographs that have come before them. Fields and skies do battle over horizon lines. Windswept crops and angered clouds gear up for war. There is a sense in these images that, even when human affairs are peaceful or absent, there are forces bigger than us doing battle high above. Incomparable to the horrors he has built his career on, these landscapes nonetheless remain haunted by conflict. McCullin can no more easily erase his images from his mind than we can.
War seems eternal.