Fallen, an exhibition of work by the renowned photojournalist Don McCullin, opened at Bonhoga and Shetland Museum and Archives on Friday night. Patrick Mainland, one of the Northern Lights ambassadors, gives his account of meeting McCullin and previews the exhibition.
Known far and wide for his stark images of conflict and poverty around the globe, in a career spanning many decades, his collection is on show in both venues until 22 February 2015.
McCullin’s powerful and often disturbing work showcases an extraordinary life documenting such conflicts as the Vietnam War, the Troubles in Northern Ireland, and the Lebanese civil war.
The harrowing images show the devastating impact of war on all those involved. In Shell-Shocked US Marine, his most iconic image, we see a soldier psychologically numbed, traumatised from all he witnesses around him.
The opening took place firstly at Bonhoga Gallery and secondly at the Shetland Museum, both venues showing McCullin’s hard-hitting depictions of deprivation and destruction.
The strongly recommended exhibition is part of Artist Rooms On Tour, an initiative that aims to showcase seminal artists with a particular focus on taking these exhibitions to every corner of Britain and getting young people engaged and inspired in contemporary art.
In keeping with this stated goal, the event also featured the Northern Lights ambassadors, a group of young people aged 13-25 who created original work in the lead-up to the exhibition, inspired by McCullin as well as the land and communities they live in.
Three groups were formed: one of photographers, one of film-makers, and one of singer-songwriters. The ambassadors were even given the chance to travel to London and meet the photographer earlier in the week.
Meeting McCullin himself in London was an once-in-a-lifetime opportunity for the ambassadors.
They were treated to a preview of the Conflict:Time:Photography exhibition in the Tate Modern galleries before meeting McCullin, as well as Artist Rooms founder Anthony D’Offay, where they had a very rewarding Q&A session.
McCullin shared his thoughts on his life and work and explained how he hated being labelled as a war photographer, giving insight into the morality of his work.
He then answered a number of questions from the ambassadors, who were shown around more of the Artist Room galleries by D’Offay afterwards.
When asked about whether he felt his images had changed anything, he replied: “To be honest I don’t think they have. The horrifying conflicts still go on, but the obsession with celebrity culture has taken over photojournalism.”
He added: “You don’t have to be a great academic scholar to be a photographer – what’s important is your eyes.”
Lewie Peterson, a mentor for the group, said: “The trip was very rewarding in a number of ways. First of all the chance to travel to the vibrant city of London is enriching for any young person, particularly those who are passionate about the arts.
“Being able to show their work to the esteemed Don McCullin would be a privilege for anyone, and overall the whole experience of hearing what him and Anthony D’Offay had to say was extremely inspiring.”
The young photographers also have their work showcased in the museum foyer. Their mentor, the Shetland-based photojournalist Calum Toogood, has recent works from his travels in the Middle East on display in Bonhoga.
The filmmakers, mentored by Liz Musser, made two short films, one focussing on the whole exhibition and the young ambassadors’ work, and one focussing on some parkour enthusiasts interacting with Shetland’s rugged landscape.
The singer-songwriters, mentored by Lewie Peterson, composed an original song entitled The Beckoning, which reflected feelings of attachment to Shetland.
The song was recorded in Mareel and was performed on the night by Sula Brookes, Elise Smith, Henry Hyndman and Patrick Mainland.
Kate Tyler, a member of the photography group, said the entire experience had been incredible, and that everyone gelled so well together – as a whole and in their specific creative projects.
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