Interview

Don McCullin on Shell-shocked US Marine

The photographer discusses his time in Vietnam and his infamous photograph

Don McCullin, ‘Shell-shocked US Marine, The Battle of Hue’ 1968, printed 2013
Don McCullin
Shell-shocked US Marine, The Battle of Hue 1968, printed 2013
ARTIST ROOMS Tate and National Galleries of Scotland
© Don McCullin

Transcription

This photograph was taken in the great Tet offensive, and this was a particular battle that took place in the city of Hue which is just below the demilitarised zone, that separates the north and the south of Vietnam. This was a Shell Shocked Soldier from the 5th marine battalion I just found him sitting on a wall, he’d got to a point in the battle, or in his life, that he couldn’t take any more of it. And I asked somebody ‘what’s the matter with him’, and he said ‘he’s shell shocked.’ And so I kind of dropped down on my knees and took 5 frames with my 35mm camera of this soldier and he never blinked an eye, his eyes were completely fixed on on one place. He was staring off into the horizon and every negative I took of this man is identical I checked them all out thoroughly. And I left this soldier after I’d photographed him and I went in to another yard to see some other people. And there was an almighty explosion, and I don’t know whether that explosion, which was an incoming mortar shell, killed this soldier, I knew it wounded some people in there, I feel slightly ashamed I didn’t go to check to see whether he was injured or still alive. I’ve come to actually kind of not particularly like this photograph because it gets used and used and used I don’t like seeing my photographs too many times. But I got to the stage with this picture now I’m sick of printing it, you get like that you know, I’ve slightly had enough of looking at it now. I don’t know what message it sends out, I think naturally it’s meant to be anti-war photograph but I don’t know how people perceive it because it has a slightly iconic value to it which could be slightly defeating part of the object of me taking it in the first place. This picture is a kind of silent protest in a way, to express a kind of silent protest about the futility of war. You can see this man’s life has possibly been damaged forever, on the other hand he is in the military he knew there would be some eventual situation that would bring great fear and harm to him possibly. By the time these soldiers got to this battle they’d been in many, many other battles so this man was no newcomer to the to the confrontation that has, brought him to a standstill.

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