For over 20 years, from the 1960s onwards, the esteemed war photographer Don McCullin revisited the streets of the East End of London to photograph the area and its people. McCullin stated that he found it the most visually fascinating district in the whole of England.
In the documentary, London on Film – The East End, (2012 BBC4) which is compiled from archive footage he observes, “You cannot walk down Whitechapel without seeing suffering, drama and misery…. there are wars that cities have, which I call social wars and I put just as much energy into showing the misery of what I call social wars.” The film shows McCullin walking and talking to the people he encounters on the streets, asking to make their portraits. His photographic approach is direct; “I am a confrontation photographer. I don’t like to be deceitful about it.”
This body of photographic work looks at the Whitechapel area at a time when there was much adversity. Of this McCullin asks both “how?” and “why?” Maintaining that some of the people he photographed had the highest qualities as human beings, he comments, “just because you live in an area like this doesn’t mean you have no dignity.” McCullin was committed to portraying the difficulty and hardship which many faced living on the streets and whilst his direct approach was often uncompromising, he never saw his subjects as objects; his intention was to reveal the circumstances and to question the causes, and to communicate this precisely through his photography.