Donald McCullin, CBE Hon FRPS (born 9 October 1935, Finsbury Park, London, England) is an internationally known British photojournalist, particularly recognized for his war photography and images of urban strife. His career, which began in 1959, has specialised in examining the underside of society, and his photographs have depicted the unemployed, downtrodden and the impoverished.
McCullin's period of National Service in the RAF saw him posted to the Canal Zone during the 1956 Suez Crisis, where he worked as a photographer's assistant. He failed to pass the written theory paper necessary to become a photographer in the RAF, and so spent his service in the darkroom. During this period McCullin bought his first camera, a Rolleicord. On return to Britain shortage of funds led to him pawning the camera. His mother used her own money to redeem the pledge.
In 1959, a photograph he took of a local London gang was published in The Observer. Between 1966 and 1984, he worked as an overseas correspondent for the Sunday Times Magazine, recording ecological and man-made catastrophes such as war-zones, amongst them Biafra, in 1968 and victims of the African AIDS epidemic. His hard-hitting coverage of the Vietnam War and the Northern Ireland conflict is particularly highly regarded.
He also took the photographs of Maryon Park in London which were used in Michelangelo Antonioni's film Blowup.
In 1968, his Nikon camera stopped a bullet intended for him.
In 1982 the British Government refused to grant McCullin a press pass to cover the Falklands War. At the time he believed it was because the Thatcher government felt his images might be too disturbing politically. It later emerged that he was a victim of bureaucracy: he had been turned away simply because the Royal Navy had used up its quota of press passes.
He is the author of a number of books, including The Palestinians (with Jonathan Dimbleby, 1980), Beirut: A City in Crisis (1983), and Don McCullin in Africa (2005). His book, Shaped by War(2010), was published to accompany a major retrospective exhibition at the Imperial War Museum North, Salford, England in 2010 and then at the Victoria Art Gallery, Bath and the Imperial War Museum, London. His most recent publication is Southern Frontiers: A Journey Across the Roman Empire, a poetic and contemplative study of selected Roman and pre-Roman ruins in North Africa and the Middle East.
In later years, McCullin has turned to landscape and still-life works and taking commissioned portraits.
In 2012 a documentary film of his life, McCullin directed by David Morris and Jacqui Morris was released. The film was nominated for two BAFTA awards.
McCullin received the World Press Photo Award in 1964 for his coverage of the war in Cyprus. In the same year he was awarded the Warsaw Gold Medal. In 1977, he was made a Fellow of theRoyal Photographic Society, placing the letters 'FRPS' after his name. He was awarded an honorary doctorate from the University of Bradford in 1993 and an honorary degree by the Open University in 1994.
He was granted the CBE in 1993, the first photojournalist to receive the honour.
McCullin was awarded the Cornell Capa Award in 2006.
McCullin was awarded The Royal Photographic Society's Special 150th Anniversary Medal and Honorary Fellowship (HonFRPS) in recognition of a sustained, significant contribution to the art of photography in 2003. He was awarded The Royal Photographic Society's Centenary Medal in 2007.
On 4 December 2008, McCullin was conferred with an Honorary Doctorate of Letters by the University of Gloucestershire in recognition of his lifetime's achievement in photojournalism. In 2009 he received the Honorary Fellowship of Hereford College of Arts.
In 2011, he was awarded an Honorary Degree (Doctor of Arts) from the University of Bath.
- "I grew up in total ignorance, poverty and bigotry, and this has been a burden for me throughout my life. There is still some poison that won't go away, as much as I try to drive it out."
- "I am a professed atheist, until I find myself in serious circumstances. Then I quickly fall on my knees, in my mind if not literally, and I say : 'Please God, save me from this.'"
- "I have been manipulated, and I have in turn manipulated others, by recording their response to suffering and misery. So there is guilt in every direction: guilt because I don't practice religion, guilt because I was able to walk away, while this man was dying of starvation or being murdered by another man with a gun. And I am tired of guilt, tired of saying to myself: "I didn't kill that man on that photograph, I didn't starve that child." That's why I want to photograph landscapes and flowers. I am sentencing myself to peace."
- "Photography for me is not looking, it’s feeling. If you can’t feel what you’re looking at, then you’re never going to get others to feel anything when they look at your pictures."
Don McCullin is a household name in the photographic community, but as far as he is concerned, it’s for all the wrong reasons. In this incredibly poignant and thought-provoking interview, he shares his thoughts about an illustrious career that was spent photographing atrocities, and left him somewhat haunted.
We really can’t over-emphasize how much of a must-see interview this is (a problem not unique to our coverage of it…). In three and a half minutes he shares such a wealth of inspiration and experience that you’ll find yourself watching the whole thing over and over again — at least we did.
Interview of Don McCullin : http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=8uixbVTdEJE
McCullin is famous for his piercing images of conflict, for a life spent ‘chasing haunting images‘ that have left him with memories he would rather not have. But they’ve also left him with invaluable insight into what is truly important in life.
He considers himself very fortunate — and not just because he was, at one point, saved from a sniper’s bullet by his Nikon F SLR. He now photographs the English landscape and hopes that this will be the legacy he leaves behind.
“When my time’s up on this Earth I want to leave a legacy behind of beautiful landscape pictures of Somerset,” says McCullin in closing. “I don’t want to be remembered as a war photographer… I hate that title.”