The first image that you is of a lone demonstrator sitting on the road facing a powerful group of policemen who are blocking the street leading to Parliament. This is 1962 when the dark clouds of the Cuban Crisis threatened the world, with demonstrations even here in London.
For over 60 years the photographer Don McCullin has been recording much of the history which people would like to forget about, but that has defined the second half of the 20th century. These photographs are not about celebratory events such as Royal Weddings, Coronations, Concorde and space flight; these are about a darker world from the poverty and dereliction in the east end of London after the Second World War, to the building of the Berlin Wall, to conflicts in Nigeria, Vietnam, Northern Ireland, East Pakistan and far too many other countries for comfort. For much of the time Don McCullin was the war correspondent for the Sunday Times in the days when they had hard-hitting photographic journalistic articles drawing attention to issues all around the world, including Cuba in their edition of 1 December 1968.
McCullin’s photographs are primarily about people: people affected by war, conflict and political battles – the soldiers, the victims and their families, people who have no food, no home and no medicines, people who are dying of AIDS….and so it goes on. What comes over is the dignity of many of the people living in the most extreme situations, many of whom have nothing and indeed may only have a short life. His photographs record progress – his 1950′s images of the east end of London with people trying to live in the ruins of buildings and rubble on bomb sites would be unrecognisable today, but yet, 60 years later we still have people living on the streets. Overall, however, they leave you depressed about what has been inflicted in the name of politics, religion and culture in the last 60 years and the ongoing situations which continue today whether in Venezuela or in Syria. We never seem to learn! And, to remind us of the personal danger that war correspondents place themselves in, there is a camera, blasted by a bullet, which saved his life.
In contrast, the final room is more reflective with images of landscapes, of Bradford and of architecture, but even here war intrudes. Taken a few years ago in a happier time, his photographs of Roman temples in Palmyra are now a record of archaeological sites which have since been blown into a million pieces and are now stained with the blood of political executions.
This is an exhibition which everyone should go to see and, with our politicians unable to sort themselves out over Brexit, you feel that they should be locked in this exhibition, in particular the room with photographs of the Northern Ireland conflict, and not be allowed out until they have agreed a consensus for an agreement.