As wars rage in the Middle East, anti-war photographer Don McCullin explains ‘how futile violence is’

Except that at that point, you had already completed training in the Air Force.

No, I have to stop you there. All I did was mass-process aerial reconnaissance films in the Air Force, photographs that I did not take.

At least you learned the treatment.

Yes, but not as much as I know now, of course. I failed the business test because I couldn’t read properly. This would have allowed me to take the next step and be recognized as an RAF photographer. In the end, it didn’t matter, because when I finally got published, I started looking for better photography magazines and learned everything I knew about photography. I still consider myself a student of photography. I learn every day of my life even though I am 88 years old.

And now you’re shooting digitally.

I am. Now that photojournalism opportunities are dying here in England and America, I feel the loss of the great days of photojournalism – the extraordinary photographers I met in my life like Henri Cartier-Bresson, Robert Capa, Cornell Capa , Eugene Smith, the extraordinary old man Life magazine photographers I have worked with. I met Eisie (Alfred Eisenstaedt, one of the weekly journalists Lifeoriginal photographers, hired in 1936) once on Martha’s Vineyard. He had an exhibit and they had him propped up by the door. But I didn’t know him personally. I have a lot of books at home; they have been my university in my photographic life. My favorite photographer is Josef Sudek (born in the Czech Republic). He looks a bit like Eisie. In the Austro-Hungarian army he lost his right arm because he was an artilleryman and a shell backfired on him, and eventually they had to remove his arm from the shoulder blade itself. But this man took the most beautiful photos you’ve ever seen. Of course, it’s not the physical body that gives you the photographer’s mind; it’s emotion, combined with the eyes.

Photographer Albert Watson can only see with one eye, hence the name of one of his books, Cyclops. His work is magnificent.

There was only one fashion photographer who impressed me. And it was Helmut Newton, who I knew personally, and I loved him. You keep seeing pictures of him that you’ve never seen before. All that is gone now. I use digital, but I am wary of it because it never gives the right color result. Its color is slightly horrible. On the contrary, the color works in very dim light, otherwise it becomes too cheesy and too chocolaty.

After visiting so many conflict zones, you see things more clearly.

When I go to bed at night, everything comes back clearly to me. One day in El Salvador we were in a battle where the government troops were taken by surprise by the rebels. I was with a very nice American photographer, John Hoagland, and we went there and he spoke Spanish. I said: “We can’t stay, they will counterattack with government soldiers.” Let’s get the wounded out of here. He said: “What a great idea. » He had a 4×4, so we filled the truck with bloodied and injured people. As we were leaving, a man said, “There’s one more man.” » I said, “John, I’ll get him.” » So I went down this alley and I went into this very poor house and I heard this terrible noise, and they knocked this man down and his face was gone from his nose to his toes. Everything was gone. We put him in a chair and drove him out to the road to get the truck. I grabbed him and made him stand up and walk, and I had my arms around him. We put him in the truck next to John, who was driving, and we went to the hospital as quickly as possible. A week later I was in another battle and I fell backwards from the roof and broke everything: my arm, my ribs. And I said to the doctor, “How is this man?” He asked, “Which man?” “The man I brought in with half his face missing.” He said, “Oh, he’s fine.” » And I thought: How can you say that, a faceless young man? How could he be okay? The crux of my story is this: When I go to bed at night and look back, I think that could have been my face. I don’t think I could have continued living. I would have ended my life one way or another. So I was lucky.

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