This much I know about…the Don McCullin retrospective exhibition at Tate Britain

I have been a teacher for 30 years, a Headteacher for 15 years and, at the age of 54, this much I know about the Don McCullin retrospective exhibition at Tate Britain.

I have five heroes, the majority of whom are dead: Seamus Heaney (poetry); Seve Ballesteros (golf); Joe Strummer (music); Eric Cantona (football) and the last, who is still, miraculously, alive, Don McCullin (photography).

I visited McCullin’s retrospective exhibition at Tate Britain yesterday. It was overwhelming. The review I want to write has already been written, by Adrian Searle for the Guardian newspaper. Instead, I have spent this morning writing this sonnet:


Death is everywhere. I creep past slaughters.
Amputees. Grey beggars on their last legs.
Skirt a foreign father, his dead daughter.
Cruel tortures. Tiptoe round our country’s dregs,
The lost, the dispossessed. McCullin’s best.
His greatest hits. Dead bodies gape, unsewn.
Protruding ribs. Unwarranted arrests.
Executions. Shot after shot rips home.

He haunts each room. His liver-spotted hands
Birthed every print. In reverential awe
I stand, transfixed. This gentle artisan,
For one last time, displaying what he saw.
Here is my work, he seems to say, enough!

And what suffuses every single frame, is love.


About johntomsett

Headteacher in York. All views are my own.
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