Don McCullin doesn’t trust digital photography. Calling it “a totally lying experience”, McCullin, famous photographer of war and disaster, says that the transition to digital capture, editing and storage means viewers could no longer trust the truthfulness of images they see.
One of the 20th century’s greatest war photographers, McCullin covered conflicts in Cyprus, the Congo, Biafra, Vietnam, Cambodia, Bangladesh, El Salvador, and the Middle East. He is the author of more than a dozen books, including his acclaimed autobiography, Unreasonable Behaviour (1990), and 2001’s retrospective Don McCullin. Winner of numerous awards, including two Premier Awards from the World Press Photo, in 1992 he became the only photojournalist to be made Commander of the British Empire (CBE).
Speaking at Photo London in Somerset UK after having been named the Photo London Master of Photography for 2016, McCullin said he did not consider his photograph “art” and did not enjoy it being “sanitized” as is so easily done with digital media. According to McCullin, the inherent truth of photography has been “hijacked” because of the quick and easy nature of digital image making. “I have a dark room and I still process film but digital photography can be a totally lying kind of experience, you can move anything you want … the whole thing can’t be trusted.”
Under pressure of time, McCullin does use digital cameras for assigned work, but he remains committed to film, recalling one of his best experiences with film being just this year, standing on Hadrian’s Wall in a blizzard. “If I’d have used a digital camera I would have made that look attractive, but I wanted you to get the feeling that it was cold and lonely,” which it was, he said. For that, a roll of old school Tri-X or HP5 fit the bill perfectly.
McCullin particularly dislikes how digital cameras allow manipulation of color. “These extraordinary pictures in colour, it looks as if someone has tried to redesign a chocolate box,” he said. “In the end, it doesn’t work, it’s hideous.”