Don McCullin is one of our greatest living photographers. Few have enjoyed a career so long; none one of such variety and critical acclaim. For the past 50 years he has proved himself a photojournalist without equal, whether documenting the poverty of London's East End, or the horrors of wars in Africa, Asia or the Middle East. Simultaneously he has proved an adroit artist capable of beautifully arranged still lifes, soulful portraits and moving landscapes.
Following an impoverished north London childhood blighted by Hitler's bombs and the early death of his father, McCullin was called up for National Service with the RAF. After postings to Egypt, Kenya and Cyprus he returned to London armed with a twin reflex Rolleicord camera and began photographing friends from a local gang named The Guv'nors
. Persuaded to show them to the picture editor at the Observer
in 1959, aged 23, he earned his first commission and began his long and distinguished career in photography more by accident than design.
In 1961 he won the British Press Award
for his essay on the construction of the Berlin Wall. His first taste of war came in Cyprus, 1964, where he covered the armed eruption of ethnic and nationalistic tension, winning a World Press Photo
Award for his efforts. In 1993 he was the first photojournalist to be awarded a CBE.
For the next two decades war became a mainstay of Don's journalism, initially for the Observer
and, from 1966, for the Sunday Times
. In the Congo, Biafra, Uganda, Chad, Vietnam, Cambodia, Israel, Jordan, Lebanon, Iran, Afghanistan, Northern Ireland and more, he time and again combined a mastery of light and composition with an unerring sense of where a story was headed, and a bravery that pushed luck to its outermost limits.
He has been shot and badly wounded in Cambodia, imprisoned in Uganda, expelled from Vietnam and had a bounty on his head in Lebanon. What's more, he has braved bullets and bombs not only to get the perfect shot but to help dying soldiers and wounded civilians. Compassion is at the heart of all his photography.
Away from war Don's work has often focused on the suffering of the poor and underprivileged and he has produced moving essays on the homeless of London's East End and the working classes of Britain's industrialised cities.
From the early 1980s increasingly he focused his foreign adventures on more peaceful matters. He travelled extensively through Indonesia, India and Africa returning with powerful essays on places and people that, in some cases, had few if any previous encounters with the Western world. In 2010 he published Southern Frontiers
, a dark and at-times menacing record of the Roman Empire's legacy in North Africa and the Middle East.
At home he has spent three decades chronicling the English countryside - in particular the landscapes of Somerset - and creating meticulously constructed still lifes all to great acclaim. Yet he still feels the lure of war. As recently as October 2015 Don travelled to Kurdistan in northern Iraq to photograph the Kurds' three-way struggle with ISIS, Syria and Turkey.
“Photography has given me a life… The very least I could do was try and articulate these stories with as much compassion and clarity as they deserve, with as loud a voice as I could muster. Anything less would be mercenary.”
-- Don McCullin