I was lucky enough to meet photographer Don McCullin and artist/photographer Paul Caffell of 31 Studio around the same time in the late 1980s when I was the curator of the Royal Photographic Society (RPS) Collection, then located in Bath, and worked with both of them on exhibitions in the 1990s.
Both Paul and Don often viewed the 19th century photographs in the RPS Collection; McCullin loved the deep rich tonal range and subject matter of Roger Fenton’s and Francis Frith’s gold-toned albumen prints, whilst Paul repeatedly looked at every one of the several hundred platinum prints in the collection, over the years.
By that time, McCullin was no longer photographing war and conflict, the displacement and privation of peoples for which he is so well known and respected but concentrating on rather more peaceful, serene and contemplative subjects - his annual visits to India, local Somerset landscapes and a series of still lifes. He characteristically printed his “fist-like” (his phrase) black and white prints very forcefully with strong tonal contrasts, sleeping badly the night before printing. I suggested to him that some of his non-war material would look quite beautiful printed by the platinum/palladium process which, with its infinite tonal range, had the ability to draw out and emphasise subtle detail. In the 1990s Paul Caffell’s 31 Studio had completely mastered the complexities of late 19th/early 20th century platinum printing and were producing exquisite prints of their own work, limited editions for photographers including Sebastãio Salgado, David Bailey, Linda McCartney and others. They also created portfolios from the negatives of acknowledged early 20th century platinum masters like Frederick H Evans and Alvin Langdon Coburn.
Platinum is ideally suited to McCullin’s brooding landscapes and scudding skies and to the reflective surfaces, light patterns and intrinsic detail in his still lifes but it especially performs a wonderful alchemy on the skin tones of his many African and Asian portraits, enabling them to both absorb and reflect light.
McCullin, who is extremely protective of his negatives, and fastidious about their safety and handling, was finally convinced to work with 31 Studio by Sebastião Salgado, whose long-term Genesis project the Studio has now been printing for several years.
So twenty years after that first suggestion, here* are Don McCullin’s amazing images, chosen by himself and printed in platinum by Paul, his son Max and Dominic Burd.