The Shortest, Most Insightful Interview Of A Photographer I’ve Ever Seen

“There was a sniper, he was trying to kill me, and he hit my camera which was by my face, and I still have that Nikon camera with a bullet hole in it". So begins one of the most compelling interviews I’ve ever seen. Welcome to a rip-roaring three minutes and twenty seconds of a wonderful journey into the mind of Don McCullin.

In a little over three minutes, Don McCullin delivers some of the most jaw dropping, insightful thoughts of any professional photographer I’ve ever heard talk. This is easily one of the (if not the) most insightful interviews of any photographer (or any person for that matter) I’ve seen, recently or otherwise.

McCullin is one of the most well regarded war photographers of a generation, and although he hates being referred to in this way, covering conflict has defined much of his career. The fact he shoots landscapes now, and wants to leave a legacy other than that of documenting war, speaks volumes about what he has had to see, endure and capture while in the field.

This interview was directed by Jonny Madderson and co-directed by Jono Stevens and produced by Just So in London and forms part of the Dunhill “Voices” campaign. Dunhill set out to showcase key figures who exemplified a pioneering, adventurous spirit. As you hear McCullin talk, it’s almost as if his DNA is imprinted with these sorts of characteristics. What makes the interview so astonishing, to me at least, is what we see when we get to peer into McCullin’s mind.

He talks about not being able to stop what’s going on in front of the lens. Not being in control and, specifically with regard to the horrors of war and conflict photography, wrestling with what he has seen, how he has dealt with it and continues to deal with it. He talks about what drives him and how each day is a new opportunity to discover the world around him.

I love how he provides the analogy of comparing the freedom he enjoys now shooting landscapes to like “being in a supermarket, able to fill his bag and just walk out without paying”. Perhaps the most poignant part of the interview is the final moments, when he talks about what he hopes to leave as his legacy.

This short interview is incredible because of how insightful it is, and in such a short space of time. I could sit and listen to this sort of stuff all day.

Have a look and let me know what you guys thought, would love to know if this had as strong an impression on you as it did on me.

Correction - this article originally credited stills photographer David Sims with this interview. While David shot the stills campaign for Voices, this interview was actually directed by Jonny Madderson, co-directed by Jono Stevens and produced by Just London. Check out their other work, it's pretty damn amazing. 

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20 Comments

wow. yeah the contrast between starving kids and his own kids rejecting food would be tuff to face on top of having to photograph kids who aren't fortunate.

David Geffin's picture

exactly what i was thinking - it would probably have driven me nuts, and he talks about handling it with quiet calm. Definitely more patience than i think i would have had! Inspiring stuff.

I read an article some time ago on Don McCullin discussing this with another 'war photographer'. I haven't even spent 5 years fully working as a photographer but its stops and makes me think. What do i really want to do with what I create and what do I leave behind intentionally or not?

One I'll have to figure out...

David Geffin's picture

If you find the link to the article please post it up, i'd be interested to read it.

He is so efficient. He delivers in three minutes an amount of insights that takes most people half an hour to deliver. I suspect that he has been working on this speech for hours, of not days. Or he's just a genius of some kind.

Excellent montage as well. I assume these are three minutes from maybe 60 minutes of recording. Well shot as well.

David Geffin's picture

I don't think many people could draw out these sorts of insights with even 30 minutes or more. He may have worked on his speech for some time - but it seemed very natural, and if you've seen other interviews or video of him, he always seems to come across in the same way. Measured, articulate, insightful and deeply aware of his connectivity and place in the world. I think he's just "one of those" types. Definitely a good guy to have round for a dinner party.

A man as honest as he could. Applaud!

Great interview.

Trying to unsee the better part of his entire career. The murders, the starving children, I can't even put into words what that must be like. I completely agree Dave, this is one of the best interviews I have seen period. Thanks for sharing it.

David Geffin's picture

You're very welcome Nick, glad you seemed to enjoy it as much as i did.

The most inspiring interiew I've seen in a long time, such a genuine, honest articulate man. couldnt agree more with the comment below would make a great dinner guest

Please let there be an uncut / un-edited version of this interview released sometime soon.

Claudia Loeber's picture

Thank you for sharing, I was so moved by that interview. War and conflict like the ones that he described are so far removed from my daily existence... it really made me stop and think about how fortunate I am. I honestly can't even imagine the kind of fortitude it takes to face the moral dilemmas he had to deal with. What a tremendous human being.

I recently asked James Natchway, recently wounded in Thailand, how he coped with the things and situations he has photographed, he said he doesn't drink or do drugs, but takes solace is knowing his work has made a difference, such as when his work drew the world's attention to the famine in Darfur. I hope that Don McCullen can tap into that too. Having spent some time photographing war during my 42 year photojournalism career I can say it does take its toll, but knowing you do have some positive impact helps.

I can recommend Jacqui Morris' in-depth film about Don, his life and his work. I was fortunate to catch this on broadcast TV in the UK. Now available on iTunes - https://itunes.apple.com/gb/movie/mccullin/id577398399

You know your camera loves you when it takes a bullet for you!!
Ironically it was his camera that took him to those places but also it was what saved his life. Just as taking beautiful pictures will save his life from his years of witnessing brutality.

to see interview hit Dunhill above. I disagree with Don re his portraits serving no purpose. They have been used to incriminate some of the worse perpetrators. His photograph of the Shell shocked soldier is a standard graphic portrayal of that condition, widely used to convey the mental effect of war on combatants. Veterans do appreciate his portrayal of what he saw and they experienced.

Very impressive and strong words. So is the man behind them. I have the utmost respect for Mr. McCullin.

To foliow up with Anne Tucker - Re:"his portraits serving no purpose"… I think a few photographers who've been photographing decades of "war images" may share a similar mindset. It's as if the mind goes on auto-pilot and you no longer feel that you're work is doing any justice.. it's not going to stop war or change the political climate of that nation. You think what's the point. But it does make a difference as it's bringing attention to what's going on in that country. Photographers are the eyes to those who can't be there and to bring the attention (visually) to the world.

Presented to you by tobacco company Alfred Dunhill. Who needs this propaganda, this glorification of individuals, businesses and wars?