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Posted on 19th November, 2011

Physical and mental



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In the capital again on Tuesday 18th. The main reason for being there was to attend the Kate Adie / Don McCullin discussion at the Imperial War Museum (IWM), Lambeth, which related to McCullin's exhib there (until 15th April 2012). I'll come back to that later, as I first need to mention the two other things I did earlier in that quite full day.


In heaven, at Brodie's brewery tap, the King William IV pub, High Road, Leyton. 18th October 2011.


To start with, it was walkies in the Walthamstow and Leyton areas, grabbing street portraits that I will consider submitting to The Guardian Camera Club monthly assignment of that name. I'd already done a similar session in Clapham a week or so earlier, and I'd been reasonably pleased with the results. However, I know I must do better, so I welcomed the chance to get more practice. You see, although I've no fear of stopping strangers in the street to ask if I can take their pic, I very much fear that I'll mess them around too much trying to get things just right (lighting, pose, expression, etc, etc). As a result, I rush things too much, and I get far too many pics that are so near yet so far. If I only had a bit more confidence to relax, talk to the subjects more, get them in the right frame of mind etc, I'd probably improve my success rate no end. Apart from that though, I love this style of photography enough to want to do it time and time again: you sometimes get a great pic, but you always meet wonderful characters with colourful histories and experiences to recount.


To be honest, my earlier efforts at Walthamstow were mainly poor, with subjects looking rather tense. But, I ended up reasonably happy, as I improved enough to get some relaxed-looking ones later in the day. One other thing I felt good about was that I had absolutely no refusals: although a couple of great characters at my final location were a bit cautious, they both agreed after a bit of chit-chat. Overall, a good session, but one which left me thinking I've still got some way to go in being able to control these situations fully. Another try needed before assignment-deadline, me thinks.


Anyway, the final location I mention above relates to the second of the two things I did before heading for the IWM: I visited the fantastic King William IV pub on High Road, Leyton: aka Brodie's Brewery Tap, a wonderful example of a genuine east-end watering hole. In truth, I didn't actually 'visit' the pub, but more stumbled across it whilst meandering along the High Road looking for interesting-looking faces. Now I had heard of Brodie's, as I'd seen their ad's in 'London Drinker' magazine, which is freely available in decent pubs around the city. But, I took only minimum notice of the ad's, as I never expected to be in the Leyton area with a boozing opportunity. Who could resist though, when there's a sign offering a great range of real ales with local ancestry, all at a non-London price of £1.99 per pint? I couldn't. And well worth the visit it was too: apart from pics of the two gents mentioned above, and of the resident brewer, I sampled several gems from their wide range. But, so much beer, so liitle time I'm afraid, as central London was calling. But I will go back, and I think I know exactly when.


So, IWM it was, getting into the 'cinema' there with just 3 minutes to spare. It was a question / discussion type affair, with Kate Adie generally doing the asking and Don McCullin responding. But it didn't follow that rigid a formula, with McCullin sometimes drifting from the topic in hand, sometimes adding insights beyond that which were being sought, and sometimes simply turning things around by putting Adie herself on the spot. In addition, Adie would often throw in her own snippets of experience as a war correspondent, to generally reinforce the photographic aspect.


Clear themes could often be sensed from Don McCullin's words: dismay, because he now knows that showing the horrors of war does not make it less likely; disgust, because some of the 'fighters' he'd seen were no more than barbarians; admiration, for the bravery of certain other fighters, often no more than youths; disappointment, from not being allowed to work in the Falklands; sadness, because the Sunday Times Magazine and Observer Magazine no longer feature serious work, but are instead obsessed with celebrity trash. And disgust again: this time with Hollywood, for its glorification of what is a cruel, evil business. Most of all though, I think it comes over that Don McCullin suffers mental torment from the terrible events he's witnessed.


It's significant I think that today, just two days after McCullin's words, we see the gung-ho, celebratory images surrounding the apparent death of Gaddafi in Libya. Will we ever see detail of all of the killings and maimings, the destruction of peoples' lives etc, that led to that situation I wonder? Or will we be fed only pics of the end result, as if it happened in a vacuum almost? Based on how he came across at the IWM, I feel that these are the things Don McCullin will be thinking now.


With good cause, Don McCullin is a very disillusioned man I feel: I just hope he's aware how much he's admired, by so many people, for his wonderful body of work, his humanity, his humility, and his moral stance.


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