Real Talk: PhoTogRaPhy acRoss geneRaTions
heRoes & MentoRs
that, but on the other hand I failed terribly in getting this body of work into the world.
So you say to yourself: Do I really want to keep pushing my way into people’s lives?
All they want from me is to make sure their kid’s story is told. And if you can’t tell it
anymore there’s no point to it. At a certain point, you say well, fuck it.
Mccullin: My problem is that as I started growing in stature, as I started getting
books published and exhibitions, I left my wife and family for another woman. I can’t
blame any war or any event I ever went to for destroying my marriage, I blame my
own weakness. It’s because photography is all-consuming. It eats away at the sensible
judgments that other people find so easy to make.
RichaRds: The problems I’ve gotten into, talking about personal problems and
destructive family issues, were because we’re more fragile than people think. When
I was doing the drug book [Cocaine True, Cocaine Blue, 1994], people would literally
spit on me, they peed on me. You were the biggest piece of shit in the world. And
people say, “Well, you know who you are, you can handle it.” Well, no you can’t handle it. So you take that kind of everyday disgrace. You’re put down, so you do have to
pick yourself up. Suddenly you go to a class or a workshop and people say: Aren’t you
great. For that tiny moment you’re great, but in the larger world, you’re not great.
That’s how we get into trouble.
Mccullin: You are a very serious person. I act the fool sometimes but I’ve never
seen you act the fool. I think you’re the most serious person in the photographic world.
RichaRds: I’m the most frightened.
Mccullin: No it comes across in your work. You are the most concentrated person
on what you are doing at the time, other wise your pictures wouldn’t mean what they
mean. That’s why I respect you so much.
RichaRds: I respect you, and mostly I think it’s because you question what
Mccullin: Do you ever question what you’re doing?
RichaRds: I’ve been called to task many, many times, and I never blame a single
person when they simply say: You have no right to take this picture. I think, Do I?
Mccullin: I don’t think we have the right unless we’re invited.
It’s strange. Physically, I’m not afraid. I’ve had a slightly macho attitude about it
all. You don’t have that attitude at all and yet, I think, no one can get any closer than
you’ve got. I couldn’t get that close. Dare I go closer? You must think like that because
we all dare ourselves.
RichaRds: Not at all. You grew up a tough guy and I grew up a guy who wanted to
be a tough guy and got beat up all the time. I realized that the only way I can photo-
graph people is if I get close enough to touch them. They can be fully armed. If I can
[get close] I can photograph them. I’m not good at a distance.
Mccullin: I know that I’m that close when I want to cry. Can you believe a bloke like
me can be capable of crying behind that Nikon?
When I saw this family. . .during the war in Bangladesh I saw a woman dying in
front of her family. And they howled. I had the old Nikon up to my eye and I thought:
Just keep your eye there, they can’t see you. Then the father said to me, “What shall I
do?” I was about to lose it. I thought, Why would he look at a man who’s losing it, and
ask for guidance?
RichaRds: if i can [get close] i can photograph them.
i’m not good at a distance.
Mccullin: i know that i’m that close when i want to cry.
can you believe a bloke like me can be capable of crying
behind that nikon?
Everyone thinks oh, Don McCullin, he’s
tough as shit, nothing bothers him. But it
did bother me, and I hope it bothered me
enough to show in my pictures.
© EUGENE RICHARDS/COUR TES Y REPOR TAGE B Y GE T T Y IMAGES
RichaRds: A while ago there was a
book of poetry [published] by a woman
who was losing her eyesight. Her friends
had died, her family was passing away,
her eyesight was going. She got to the
point where she could handle anything
but she couldn’t handle the beautiful
things. I think that’s what’s happened
You’re with people who are being tortured or people being shot at and they
turn around and give you their food.
That’s when I fucking lose it. Or you go to
a cancer ward, and you’re with a bunch
of women, all of them have breast cancer and all they do is share with each
other. Then I fucking fall apart. It’s been
the case that I can handle it all until the
beautiful thing happens.
Mcullin: That’s probably the most insightful thing you’ve said today.
It’s the beautiful things that I need
now. Fifty years I’ve been photographing
bad things. I don’t sleep that well at night.
Dorothea Lynch, 34, laughs when a doctor asks
if she feels like less than a woman after losing
a breast, 1979. Lynch, Richards’s first wife and
collaborator on Exploding into Life, had been
diagnosed with breast cancer in 1978; she had
received a modified radical mastectomy, then
undergone chemotherapy and radiation.