Shaped by War: Photographs by Don McCullin at The Imperial War Museum

Imperial War Museum North in Manchester presents the largest ever UK exhibition about the life and work of Don McCullin, one of the world’s most acclaimed photographers, to mark his 75th year. Many items are on public display for the very first time.

Don McCullinFor more than 50 years, McCullin’s images have shaped our awareness of modern conflict and its consequences. His courage and integrity, as well as the exceptional quality of his work, are a continuing inspiration and influence worldwide. A unique collaboration between McCullin and the Imperial War Museum, this major new exhibition contains over 200 photographs, objects, magazines and personal memorabilia, and shows how war has shaped the life of this exceptional British photographer and those across the globe over the last half-century.

The exhibition examines McCullin the man, with an extraordinarily uncompromising drive to be on the frontline and document events as they unfold, the influences on his work and his impact on others. It reveals the moral dilemmas of bearing witness to and photographing conflict. Set in the context of world events and major changes in photography and journalism which have occurred in his lifetime, items on display for the first time include his US Issue Army Helmet worn in Vietnam, colour photographs from El Salvador, 1982 and Vietnam, 1972 and his most recent work, documenting the former Roman Empire.

Newly commissioned footage by the Imperial War Museum featuring Don McCullin reappraising his life as a photojournalist provides an intimate insight into his experiences in his own words. Most black and white images have been handprinted by McCullin himself and are stunning examples of his darkroom skills. Key images will also be displayed via lightboxes, banners and projections – methods that have never before been used to display his work.

McCullin’s most iconic black and white photographs of the major conflicts of the last 50 years are displayed together with his perspective on more recent events. Key turning points in his life are examined. These include his early years (experiencing evacuation, the Blitz, National Service in the RAF Photographic Unit), his discovery of photojournalism (early commissions for The Observer and reports of Berlin in 1961 and Cyprus in 1964), his seminal work for The Sunday Times Magazine (including Vietnam, Biafra, Bangladesh and Northern Ireland) and the changing approaches to journalism McCullin faced. Meanwhile documents on display from the Imperial War Museum’s Archive tell the full story of his controversial exclusion from the 1982 Falklands Conflict.

The exhibition explores how, indirectly, conflict continues to shape Don McCullin and his work today including cultural change in Britain, landscapes of England, still life photography and recent Roman Empire project.

A major new book Don McCullin: Shaped by War accompanies the exhibition and is published by Jonathan Cape in association with the Imperial War Museum on 4 February. Southern Frontiers, a new collection of photographs from Don’s journey across the boundaries and landscape of the Roman Empire (some of which feature on public display for the first time in the exhibition) is also published by Jonathan Cape on 4th March.

‘Shaped by War: Photographs by Don McCullin’ is presented in a landmark building that is itself a visionary symbol of the effects of war. Imperial War Museum North (IWMN) was designed by world-renowned architect Daniel Libeskind to represent a world shattered by conflict. IWMN’s Special Exhibitions Gallery is an extraordinary and compelling space, unrivalled in the UK. It is one of the largest temporary exhibition galleries in the country with two aluminium-clad walls that pierce the exhibition space, and a ceiling that plummets in one corner and swoops upward in another.

Jim Forrester, Imperial War Museum North Director, said: “Imperial War Museum North is proud to present the work of one of the greatest living photographers of conflict. McCullin’s outstanding photography reveals the nature of modern conflict and its impact on civilians as well as servicemen and women, providing a striking reminder that war shapes lives.” Open through 13 June 2010.

Imperial War Museum North is a charity and much of the work the Museum does, from unique exhibitions to learning programmes with the local community, relies on the generosity of trusts, foundations, the business community, a corporate members scheme and individual giving. IWM North is extremely grateful to its current and past supporters.

The Museum is open 7 days a week from 10am-6pm (Nov to Feb 10am-5pm) with free admission. It is situated at The Quays on Trafford Wharf Road, Trafford Park, Manchester close to Harbour City Metrolink and Junction 9 of the M60.

Image: Berlin: Two US soldiers on high alert observe from an upper storey window by the Wall at Checkpoint Charlie, 1961. Photo: ©Don McCullin