Dean O'Brien's Blog

Photographer’s Autobiographies: Don McCullin & Bob Carlos Clarke

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If there is one thing that I am learning whilst studying photography, its that you cannot read too much.  Over the past few months I have managed to read autobiographies about two of my favourite photographers – Don McCullin and the late Bob Carlos Clarke.  These are both two very different photographers yet with brilliant stories of their past.

Both books are an amazing read in their own unique way.  McCullin’s book is very hard to put down once you start reading it so be warned.  He grew up around the wartime blitz in London and to be honest throughout his life he has been surrounded by one war or another.  Here is a photographer who entered numerous war zones and helped save the lives of many people through his physical acts and images.  His images graced the Sunday Times magazine for many years.   The final chapter of the book tells how Don seems emotionally and physically lost.  How can a man who gave so much to others lose sight of his own destination?  Losing the job and the woman you love has pushed many men over the edge and McCullin like many others is living proof.  I just wish that people in ‘movie land’ would make a film about McCullin’s life instead of feeding us the usual tripe.  However, today (2/2/2010) McCullin has released a new book ‘Shaped By War’.  I pre-orderded this and it was well worth the wait.  This book coincides with an exhibition of these images touring the country.

Bob Carlos Clarke (like McCullin) felt that he never fully received the recognition he deserved.  His images were amongst the first fashion images which gained my attention many years ago and it might comes as no surprise that prices of his work have rocketed since his death.  The recognition he so rightly wanted came as soon as he ended his life.  I feel mostly sorry for his daughter and wife who he left behind.  Its often said that suicide is a selfish act and although I understand that everybody has a breaking point, it is always the nearest and dearest who suffer the most.  Bob seems to be making more money now and seems more popular than he ever was.  This is not unique to photographers as we all know. The music industry being the worst culprit…(cue intro music..Billy Jean..).  I always loved the work of Bob and am pleased that this book has given me an insight into his past life.

I suppose the big question is what do these books offer us who read them?  I think they will touch different people in different ways.  For me, they prove that anything is possible.  I read books to inspire me, and in a way maybe to offer me some guidance.  Not necessarily guidance in the form of photography but just in general.  We all need to learn from our own mistakes but if we can learn something from other peoples then so be it.  Neither of these photographers came from privileged backgrounds and to a certain extent I think they they both benefited from this.  Do being brought up in hard times make you deal with hardship in life any better than anyone else?  I’m not sure but it might make you look at things in a different way which for me is what photography is all about.


Written by Dean O'Brien

February 2, 2010 at 8:14 pm

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