Stress of Battle

Those who are suffering from PTSD have difficulty explaining their problem. This extract from the book by ex-war photographer Don McCullin is more about the stress of battle but explains it very well. Hope it assists with the PTSD problems.
“Photography has been very very generous to me, but at the same time it’s damaged me, really”

A recently released book takes a retrospective look at the career of British photographer Don McCullin. Before he found solace photographing the Somerset countryside, McCullin spent 30 years as a war photographer covering the world trouble spots. In his self–titled book he presents an overview of his finest work, spanning his entire career.

Collected together for the first time in one book, McCullin’s images make up one of the most profound and moving documents of war and conflict produced during the second half of the 20th century. Put simply, McCullin’s work remains as affective and relevant today as when it was first published.

Here, Don McCullin discusses his new book, and begins by telling the story of how he captured one of his most memorable images – used on the front cover – his portrait of a shell–shocked US Marine, taken in Vietnam in 1968:

“I was taken into a court yard, and I saw this Man sitting there. I said to someone ‘what’s his problem?’ And he said ‘we’ve had to pull him out, he’s gone.’ I dropped down in front of him and photographed him. And, you know, I took about eight frames, (and) not once did he blink those eyes, and not once did he say anything to me, or move. And he was looking right through me, as if I was a ghost in front of him.”

On reflection, McCullin draws some comparisons between himself at the time and the shell–shocked US Marine:

“Like all soldiers, when you’re under conditions of daily risking your life, and eating rubbish food, sleeping near corpses and things like that… After a while there’s a certain amount of insanity that creeps in. That’s what this Man’s suffering from here (the US Marine). You are slightly off your head for a few weeks. I was in the battle of Hue, I was there for nearly 14 days, and 14 days of that, you know… I was slightly do–lally when I came away from it. I came away with a stare that was beyond the thousand yard stare. I was looking at a direction that I wanted to be led to, away from the fighting. Because I was slightly off my head, really.”

Looking back over his work, McCullin appears disillusioned as to the amount of impact his images have had overall, in affecting the conscience of the world, of making people aware of the terrible consequences of war and conflict:

“I regret that we haven’t managed to change it all around and stop it. You know, it’s a bit naive of me to think… when I was young I thought – I’m gonna make people look at these pictures, and I’m gonna make people think twice. Yes… I do make people think twice, and they do look at them, but they’re normally the converted.”

30 Years of travelling the world, covering war and conflict, has left McCullin with a troubled conscience, having photographed some of his subjects in their most distressing moments. Today, McCullin reflects:

“I’m not a person who wants to go stealing images of other peoples grief, and things like that… (But) I am Mr Guilt himself, I’m the hod–carrier of guilt, you know. I don’t sleep well, I think sometimes… I wake up and think about things like this. I can still remember the day I saw a man shot in cold blood in front of me. And sometimes, it’s not always convenient but these memories come back at the most terrible times. Sometimes at night, sometimes even on a beautiful sunny day when I’m sitting in my garden, or walking through some woodland. And you know, photography has been very very generous to me, but at the same time it’s damaged me, really.”

By the early 1980’s, McCullin was still on the front–line, still going to war. This time it was the Lebanon. Whilst there, McCullin covered the collapse of a bombed apartment block, and snatched a photograph of a grief stricken woman at the scene, who reacted angrily to being photographed. It was to be McCullin’s last serious war assignment:

“When I was in Beirut, I photographed a woman who was screaming… and she came and punched the life out of me for my error. Everybody was at this place, because it was devastation, and (later) somebody came and said ‘you know that woman who punched you, she’s just been killed – another car bomb’s gone off and blown her away down the street.’ And I thought, that’s it, I’ve had it. I’ve had this war business… these war games. I’m going home.”

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