Week 5 “Shellshock” McCullin

For my Week 4 research update I went over how I thought McCullin’s photography during Vietnam was so powerful that it brought the issue of combat stress into the face of Americans, allowing us to ignore it no longer. I’m not saying that he single-handedly paved the way for the research and treatment of the disease, but he most definitely contributed to it. For this week I would like to start by saying that there is no record of who the Marine in “Shellshock” is, and his commanding officer and fellow Marines have not yet been aware of him resurfacing since the photo, and will be continuing my research. But I also want to talk about a documentary on McCullin from BBC I had watched explaining his roots and the story of his life in photography and all the conflicts, and other stories he had covered from his perspective. 

First, I could go over the things I enjoyed, and a better word would be absorbed from his lessons and his stories, but I would write a whole other paper. For this blog I want to focus on the blacklisting of McCullin from wars following Vietnam and how his photos affected the coverage of war for him and everyone in later conflicts. There was total media freedom in Vietnam, for the first time, all countries reporters could cover the war totally, and put whatever spin they wanted. McCullin never claimed to be a writer, and only took the photos, and in those photos he only once admitted to setting one picture up. This was the photo of the North Vietnamese sniper who was killed by Americans, and his belongings were scattered about his body. In an attempt to add emotion and weight, McCullin moved the snipers belongings around him to fit them all in with his body for a picture. But other than that one photo all the others were shot in real time, with no setting up or posing. 

It was after Vietnam that McCullin began to run into issues with being allowed on transport vessels into war zones and conflict areas. Following Vietnam there was the Falklands War where he was stopped from boarding the ship going to the Falklands because the ship was too full and there wasn’t enough room on board for him. It was because he couldn’t get on that ship to the Falklands that he ended up going into Lebanon to cover the conflict there. But my point is that being given the freedom to cover the war in Vietnam, McCullin’s photos were full of such uncensored truth that it moved governments to be weary and scared of one photographer being allowed into the country to cover the war they were fighting in. 

We see even today in war that media coverage in area of operation is very closely watched by the military elements and government forces. In my own personal experience when I was a PFC in the Marine Corps, I was told to watch a British reporter and make sure he didn’t’ get killed or take photos of the dead. I had no idea at 19 years old that I would be playing a part in a dilemma photographers like the one I am now researching brought to light for world powers. Having gone to Syria and Iraq during the most recent conflicts there, McCullin believes that photographers are not even allowed into the right areas to cover the war properly and the governments are to scared that the public opinion will be effected by the truth in the photos. And so we see another profound effect that our photo (along with a great many others), have had on the role media plays in war today, and the amount of access the media is granted.


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