Don McCullin In Africa by Don McCullin
Don McCullin's reputation stands as one of the greatest war photographers of our times. In recent years he has photographed the landscape surrounding his home in Somerset, but his later travels have taken him to some of the most remote regions in the world. His skill in photographing people in extreme situations has enabled him to mix with tribes on the edges of civilisation.
His work among the people of Irian Jaya, including cannibals, appeared in his last book, Don McCullin. McCullin's new work in Africa reaches one of the last corners of the earth where signs of outside influence are few, though they appear ominously significant. Over the last two years Don McCullin has travelled south from Addis Ababa in Ethiopia to the valley of the Omo River leading down to the border with Sudan. There he has entered the tribal lands of the Surma, the Gheleb, the Bume, the Erbore, the Bene, the Bodi, the Karo, the Hamar and the Mursi. Extraordinary body paints decorate many of their bodies. Metalwork adorns their limbs, and, in the case of the Mursi, huge circular plates extend their lower lips and piercings open up large holes in their ear lobes. Ritualistic stick battles are enacted with ferocity. Rifles and machine guns are often cradled in the hands of warriors. The violence McCullin witnessed was staged but real dangers were close.
African tribespeople can present another face of the exotic to those of us in modern, developed cultures, especially if the photography recognises nothing of their dignity but all of their exoticism. McCullin knows too much to fall into that trap. McCullin's subjects retain their dignity and also become heroic. We, the viewers, can be amazed by their strength and beauty, and all the more so because McCullin's compassionate photography enables us to understand their vulnerability. McCullin's photographs will be prefaced by extracts from his diaries.