Focus on McCullin

Anti-fascist demonstration, London, 1962

Early Don McCullin photograph of anti-fascist protests in Trafalgar Square published in Topic magazine. The design was by Tom Wolsey

Don McCullin was the subject of an interview headlined ‘I should have gone barmy‘ by Julian Flanagan in the FT at the weekend (3 November 2007). The photograph of him by Andy Short (I wonder how he felt about the job?) reminds me of Clint Eastwood as a globe-trotting photojournalist with thoughts of settling down in The Bridges of Madison County. A quote from the piece:

I said once ‘I’m going to be the best war photographer’. What a stupid thing to say. It’s like saying I’m going to be the best assassin.

McCullin’s latest book In England (Cape) ranges from his much earlier material (where he admits to having looked for the worst of the country) to his latest landscapes. The image above is one of his early ones, from a spread in Topic (1962). The magazine’s art editor, Tom Wolsey, used McCullin’s pictures as big as he could, squeezing out text, headline (yet, that’s it at the top of the picture – Focus on Hate) and captions. The publisher was Michael Heseltine’s Cornmarket, which also owned Town, and became Haymarket. Notice the prominence of the credit for McCullin at the bottom left, though.

And what a spread it is: a Benny Green column discussing the ‘heirs to the Pathagorean tradition’ to be found going to the dogs at White City; a football column on the rising cost of players (Billy Wright at Arsenal wanted to fork out £65,000 to bring Joe Baker back from Torino); and the McCullin photo opening an article on the battle against fascism. Not that it was much of article in terms of words – just a couple of pars to give context to the pictures, probably based on McCullin’s eyewitness account (below). Note the central use of white space on the right page to create animation for the elements of the page. The essence of photojournalism. Dramatic stuff.


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