An interview with Don McCullin is never going to be a dull affair – he is a complex man who has told the story of his life many times before. He is unfailingly polite and gentlemanly, but one detects a slightly weary tone as he goes over the familiar ground. He often pre-empts the questions with clinical self-awareness.
The story of McCullin’s rise from the impoverished backstreets of Finsbury Park in north London is one of fortuitous good luck, but it didn’t start out that way. Born in 1935, he was just 14 when his father died, after which he was brought up by his dominant, and sometimes violent, mother. During National Service with Britain’s Royal Air Force, he was posted to Suez, Kenya, Aden and Cyprus, gaining experience as a darkroom assistant. He bought a Rolleicord camera for £30 in Kenya, but pawned it when he returned home to England, and started to become a bit of a tearaway.
Redemption came when his mother redeemed the camera, and MccCullin started to take photographs of a local gang, The Guvners. One of the hoodlums killed a policeman, and McCullin was persuaded to show a group portrait of the gang to The Observer. It published the photo, and kick-started a burgeoning career as a photographer for the newspaper.
“I never thought of myself as doing anything other than telling stories,” said Erich Lessing. “The camera became the medium through which I did that, but I don’t carry a camera everywhere I go. To me, it is simply the means to a very specific end. I observe the world through my eyes and not through the viewfinder of a camera. I don’t interpret, nor do I adjust anything in the dark room. I am a realistic photographer.”
They’re modest words from a man who created iconic images of the 20th century, and who was a member of Magnum Photos for well over half a century. His photographs of the Hungarian revolution in 1956 were seen around the world, as was his shot of the presentation of the Austrian State Treaty on the balcony of the Belvedere palace in front of a cheering crowd in 1955.
“Talking to people in Gaza, you realise how much the drones are burrowed into their daily lives,” says Daniel Tepper, an American photographer who has been researching and documenting the production and militarisation of drones in Israel since the 2014 conflict in Gaza.
In Arabic, unmanned aircrafts are referred to as ‘zenana’, local slang for the buzzing of a mosquito; in English ‘drones’ take their name from the male honeybee, and the monotonous hum it makes in flight. The Israeli military pioneered the use of drones in combat, employing the technology during the 1982 Lebanon War, and since then people in Gaza have become accustomed to the insidious noise of drones, sounding so close “they could reside beside us”, as Dr. Atef Abu Saif writes in his first-hand account of the 2014 conflict, The Drone Eats With Me. “It’s like it wants to join us for the evening and has pulled up an invisible chair,” he adds.
Despite this familiarity, what’s most scary about the drones is the fact it’s always unclear why they’re out – if they’re doing surveillance, if they’re armed, or if they’re about to strike. During the summer of 2014 the people of Gaza lived under constant surveillance, so much so you couldn’t distinguish a star or a satellite from a drone at night, says Vittoria Mentasti, an Italian photographer who experienced the conflict while reporting on it. According to Hamushim, a human rights group based in Gaza, drone warfare was responsible for almost a third of the 1543 civilian casualties in the 2014 war.
“I have to be scared, because the moment I’m not scared it might be dangerous.” Miki Kratsman has found himself in a number of difficult and dangerous situations over the course of his 33 year career photographing the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. In that time, he has repeatedly changed his approach to create different narratives, showing not only the danger in the region, but those brave enough to stand up to the attacks, the pernicious nature of surveillance and latterly creating a Facebook community to share news of what has happened to the subjects of his photographs.
First published on worldphoto.org. British documentary photographer Rich Wiles has been based in Palestine for many years. His work explores notions of home, identity, resistance, and has been published and exhibited widely. Rich tells us more about his series Circus behind the Wall (which was shortlisted for the Sony World Photography Awards 2015) and his path into photography. With entries to the 2016 edition of the Sony World Photography Awards closing soon, now is the time to enter your work. For you, what is the purpose of photography? Photography is a medium that helps us to question the way we look at the world and what we ‘know’ or think about it. If photography can make us ‘think’ differently, then can it also encourage us to act differently? I believe that it can, and therefore the purpose of my photographic practice, unashamedly, is to be an agent for social change in whatever context that is being sought. You have lived in Palestine for many years. What brought you to the country and was photography any influence on …