In art college we were taught to forget how to see and learn how to look.

Don McCullin in conversation with Francis Hodgson at Photo London Somerset House on 20 May 2015. Quite moving   #PhotoLondon2015 #SomersetHouse   #monochrome     #blackandwhitephotography     #blackandwhite   

I remembered this when reading an article about the photographer Don McCullin in Mother Jones and the re-issue of McCullin’s retrospective book, ”Don McCullin: The New Definitive Edition”.

McCullin is, rightly, best known for his war photography, especially during Vietnam, and his coverage of conflicts from Northern Ireland to Lebanon. However, the article showed a photograph by McCullin from a series he did in 1974 about the steel town of Consett in County Durham, UK:

This is a picture of a young couple in their “going out” clothes, and it’s just full of paradox that captures the time and the culture perfectly.

1974 was probably the defining year, culturally, of the twentieth century. It was on the cusp between the old and the new. The couple stand on the railway track in a desolate industrial landscape that had probably looked the same since the Victorian age. A short few years after this photograph was taken, the steel works would have closed down and the age of the neo-liberal would be upon us.

The couple themselves are also a paradox. The man is dressed as a “teddy-boy”, a youth culture movement from the early fifties - twenty years prior to this picture being taken. He’s already out of time. Also, despite his greased and quiffed hair, his long sideburns and crepe shoes, he’s wearing a cravat and a cardigan - items more readily associated with hearth and home. He’s got one eye on rebellion and one eye on home comforts.

The woman is dressed in the style of the day: a white plastic coat, knee-high boots and short dress/skirt. I remember my mother dressed something like this in this period.

I find the picture very emotive. The couple are young but seem resigned to their lot in life, little knowing the turmoil and uncertainty that awaits them in the coming years. I hope they made it through alright.