Don McCullin

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Don McCullin
McCullin on TV Brasil, 2011
Donald McCullin

(1935-10-09) 9 October 1935 (age 88)
St Pancras, London, England
Years active1959–present
  • Christine Dent
    (m. 1959; div. 1982)
  • (m. 1995; div. 2000)
  • Catherine Fairweather
    (m. 2002)

Sir Donald McCullin CBE (born 9 October 1935) is a British photojournalist, particularly recognised 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 impoverished.

Early life[edit]

McCullin was born in St Pancras, London,[1] and grew up in Finsbury Park, but he was evacuated to a farm in Somerset during the Blitz.[2] He has mild dyslexia[3][4] but displayed a talent for drawing at the secondary modern school he attended. He won a scholarship to Hammersmith School of Arts and Crafts[4] but, following the death of his father, he left school at the age of 15, without qualifications, for a catering job on the railways.[3][4] He was then called up for National Service with the Royal Air Force (RAF) in 1953.[5]


During his National Service, McCullin was posted to the Suez Canal during the 1956 Suez Crisis, and served as a photographer's assistant. He failed the written theory paper to become a photographer in the RAF and spent his service in the darkroom.[6][5] During this period McCullin bought his first camera, a Rolleicord, for £30 when stationed in Nairobi.[7] On return to Britain, shortage of funds led to his pawning the camera and his mother used her money to redeem the pledge.[8]

In 1958 he took a photograph of a local London gang posing in a bombed-out building. He was persuaded by his colleagues to take his photograph of The Guvnors, as the gang was known, to The Observer, which published it, setting him on his path as a photographer.[7][9] Between 1966 and 1984, he worked as an overseas correspondent for the Sunday Times Magazine, recording ecological and man-made catastrophes such as wars, amongst them Biafra in 1968, and victims of the African AIDS epidemic.[5] His hard-hitting coverage of the Vietnam War and the Northern Ireland conflict is held in particularly high regard.

He also took the photographs of Maryon Park in London used in Michelangelo Antonioni's 1966 film Blowup,[10] In 1968 his Nikon F2 camera stopped a bullet intended for him.[11] Also in 1968, on 28 July, he was invited to photograph the Beatles, then at the height of their fame and in the midst of recording The White Album. These sessions, made at several London locations, have become known as The Mad Day Out. They contain many well-known images of the band, including the gatefold sleeve picture from the Red and Blue compilations where the Beatles mingled with the crowd seen through railings. The photographs from this day were published in the 2010 book A Day in the Life of the Beatles.

A documentary about McCullin entitled Just One More War, directed by Jana Boková, with ATV as the production company, aired on the ITV network in 1977.[12]

In 1982 the British government refused to grant McCullin a press pass to cover the Falklands War, claiming the boat was full.[13][14][15][16][17] At the time he believed it was because the Thatcher government felt his images might be too disturbing politically.

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 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 2012, a documentary film of his life, McCullin, directed by David Morris and Jacqui Morris, was released. It was nominated for two BAFTA awards.[18] In later years, McCullin has turned to landscape, still-life works and commissioned portraits. In November 2015 McCullin was named Photo London Master of Photography for 2016.[19]

Filmed in February 2018 and broadcast in May, the BBC Four documentary The Road To Palmyra[20] saw McCullin visit Syria with historian Dan Cruickshank to see the devastation left by the conflict on the UNESCO listed site of Palmyra. Discussing his trip with the Radio Times he spoke of his approach to entering war zones: "I have risked my life endless times, and ended up in hospital with all kinds of burns and shell wounds. I have those reptile eyes that see behind and in front of me. I'm constantly trying to stay alive. I'm aware of warfare, of hidden mines."

Despite his reputation as a war photographer, McCullin has said that Alfred Stieglitz was a key influence on his work.[7]

Personal life[edit]

Living in Somerset, he is married and has five children from his marriages.[5]


In November 2020, it was announced Angelina Jolie would be directing a biopic about McCullin, with Tom Hardy in the starring role. It is being adapted from McCullin's biography Unreasonable Behaviour by Gregory Burke.[21]


Émile Béchard, Femme du Luxor from McCullin's personal selection of photographs from the National Media Museum's collection, 2009.
  • The Destruction Business. Open Gate Books. 1971. ISBN 0-333-13022-7.
  • Is Anyone Taking Any Notice?. MIT Press. 1973.
  • Anton Wallich-Clifford & Don McCullin (1974). No Fixed Abode. Macmillan Publishers.
  • Homecoming. Macmillan. 1979.
  • Jonathan Dimbleby & Don McCullin (1980). The Palestinians. Quartet Books. ISBN 0-7043-3322-8.
  • Hearts of Darkness: Photographs by Don McCullin. Secker and Warburg. 1980.
  • Don McCullin (1983). Beirut: A City in Crisis. New English Library. ISBN 0-450-06037-3.
  • Don McCullin (1987). Perspectives. Harrap. ISBN 0-245-54368-6.
  • Don McCullin (1989). Open Skies. Introduction by John Fowles. Jonathan Cape. ISBN 0-224-02539-2.
  • Norman Lewis & Don McCullin (1993). An Empire of the East: Travels in Indonesia. London: Jonathan Cape. ISBN 0-224-03230-5.
  • Don McCullin (1994). Sleeping with Ghosts: A Life's Work in Photography. London: Jonathan Cape. ISBN 0-224-03241-0.
  • Don McCullin (1999). India. London: Jonathan Cape. ISBN 0-224-05089-3.
  • Cold Heaven. Christian Aid. 2001. ISBN 0-904379-47-7.
  • Don McCullin; Lewis Chester (2002). Unreasonable Behaviour: An Autobiography. Vintage Books. ISBN 0-09-943776-7.
  • Don McCullin (2003). Don McCullin. London: Jonathan Cape. ISBN 0-224-07118-1.
  • Life Interrupted. Christian Aid. 2004. ISBN 0-904379-64-7.
  • Don McCullin (2005). Don McCullin in Africa. London: Jonathan Cape. ISBN 0-224-07514-4.
  • Don McCullin (2007). Don McCullin in England. London: Jonathan Cape. ISBN 978-0-224-07870-2.
  • Don McCullin (2010). Shaped by War. Vintage. ISBN 978-0-224-09026-1.
  • Don McCullin (2010) A Day in the Life of the Beatles. London: Jonathan Cape. ISBN 9780224091244. New York: Rizzoli. ISBN 9780847836116.
    • A day in the life of the Beatles: un giorno speciale con John, Paul, George e Ringo. Milan: Rizzoli. ISBN 9788817043793.
    • A day in the life of the Beatles: söndagen den 28 juli 1968. Stockholm: Max Ström. ISBN 9789171262042.
  • Don McCullin (2010). Southern Frontiers: A Journey Across the Roman Empire. London: Jonathan Cape. ISBN 978-0-224-08708-7.
  • The Landscape. London: Jonathan Cape, 2018. ISBN 978-1787330429.


McCullin receiving the World Press Photo Award in 1964



McCullin's work is held in the following permanent collection:


  • "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."[49]
  • "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.'"[49]
  • "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 practise 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."[49]
  • "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."[50]


  1. ^ "Index entry". FreeBMD. ONS. Retrieved 6 July 2020.
  2. ^ Don McCullin at SundaySalon. Retrieved 22 March 2014
  3. ^ a b Cadwalladr, Carole (22 December 2012). "Don McCullin: 'Photojournalism has had it. It's all gone celebrity'". The Guardian. Retrieved 22 March 2014.
  4. ^ a b c Flanagan, Julian (2 November 2007). "'I should have gone barmy'". Financial Times. Retrieved 6 July 2020.
  5. ^ a b c d Edemariam, Aida (6 August 2005). "The human factor". The Observer. Retrieved 6 July 2020.
  6. ^ Benedictus, Leo (29 March 2007). "Don McCullin's best shot". The Guardian. Retrieved 6 July 2020.
  7. ^ a b c "Don McCullin interview: life in black & white". Amateur Photographer. Retrieved 2 September 2018.
  8. ^ McCullin, Donald; Lewis Chester (2002). Unreasonable Behaviour, An Autobiography. Vintage Books. pp. 28–29. ISBN 978-0-09-943776-5.
  9. ^ Peres, Michael R.; Osterman, Mark; Romer, Grant B.; Lopez, J. Tomas (2008). The Concise Focal Encyclopedia of Photography. Focal Press. ISBN 978-0-240-80998-4.
  10. ^ Philippe Garner, David Alan Miller, Blow Up (Steidl, 2011).
  11. ^ McCullin, Donald; Lewis Chester (2002). Unreasonable Behaviour, An Autobiography. Vintage Books. pp. 137–138. ISBN 978-0-09-943776-5.
  12. ^ "Just One More War". Imperial War Museums. Retrieved 24 November 2020.
  13. ^ Morris, Roderick (30 October 1997). "Don McCullin's Harrowing Images of War". International Herald Tribune. Archived from the original on 17 February 2009.
  14. ^ "Don McCullin". Exploring Photography. Victoria and Albert Museum. Archived from the original on 10 February 2007. Retrieved 31 March 2007.
  15. ^ Das, P (January 2005), "Life interrupted—a photographic exhibition of HIV/AIDS in Africa by Don McCullin", The Lancet Infectious Diseases, 5 (1): 15, doi:10.1016/S1473-3099(04)01248-4, ISSN 1473-3099, PMID 15620555
  16. ^ a b Hodgson, Francis (19 October 2011). "Shaped by War: Photographs by Don McCullin, Imperial War Museum, London". Financial Times. Retrieved 24 July 2015.
  17. ^ Calkin, Jessamy. "Bleak Beauty". The Daily Telegraph. London. Retrieved 24 July 2015.
  18. ^ "Film in 2013". BAFTA. Retrieved 2 September 2018.
  19. ^ Furness, Hannah (27 November 2015). "Don McCullin: 'Digital photography can be a totally lying experience'" – via
  20. ^ ""When I think of IS, I detest them beyond imagination": war photographer Don McCullin heads to Syria for new BBC4 documentary". Radio Times. Retrieved 16 December 2018.
  21. ^ "Angelina Jolie to direct biopic of photographer Don McCullin starring Tom Hardy". The Guardian. 19 November 2020. Retrieved 22 November 2020.
  22. ^ "1964 Don McCullin WY". World Press Photo. Retrieved 2 May 2018.
  23. ^ a b c d "Don McCullin". World Press Photo. Retrieved 2 May 2018.
  24. ^ a b "Visions of England". Bradford Telegraph and Argus. Retrieved 2 September 2018.
  25. ^ "Honorary Fellowships (HonFRPS)". Royal Photographic Society. Archived from the original on 3 July 2020. Retrieved 6 July 2020.
  26. ^ "No. 53153". The London Gazette (Supplement). 30 December 1992. p. 8.
  27. ^ "Don McCullin biography". Under Fire: Images from Vietnam. Piece Unique Gallery. Archived from the original on 11 March 2007. Retrieved 30 March 2007.
  28. ^ "John Daniel and honorary graduate Don McCullin". Open university. Retrieved 2 September 2018.
  29. ^ Royal Photographic Society's Centenary Award Archived 1 December 2012 at the Wayback Machine Accessed 13 August 2012
  30. ^ "Cornell Capa Award". Archived from the original on 23 April 2007. Retrieved 31 March 2007.
  31. ^ "Royal Photographic Society's Centenary Award". Archived from the original on 1 December 2012. Retrieved 13 August 2012.
  32. ^ "Honorary degree recipients". University of Gloucestershire. Retrieved 29 June 2018.
  33. ^ "Annual Report 2012 (p11)" (PDF). Creative Space. Hereford College of Arts. Archived from the original (PDF) on 25 June 2013. Retrieved 7 December 2012.
  34. ^ "Honorary graduates Archived 13 October 2017 at the Wayback Machine", University of Bath. Accessed 14 January 2012. (A list of honorary graduates of 2011.)
  35. ^ "2016 Lucie Awards". Retrieved 3 January 2017.
  36. ^ "No. 61803". The London Gazette (Supplement). 31 December 2016. p. N2.
  37. ^ "Sir Donald McCullin CBE, Hon FRPS | Honorary graduates | University of Exeter".
  38. ^ "Shaped By War: Photographs by Don McCullin, Imperial War Museum North". The Independent. 7 February 2010. Retrieved 2 May 2018.
  39. ^ Pulver, Andrew (11 February 2010). "Don McCullin". The Guardian. Retrieved 2 May 2018.
  40. ^ O'Hagan, Sean (7 February 2010). "Shaped by War: Photographs by Don McCullin". The Guardian. Retrieved 2 May 2018.
  41. ^ "Don McCullin exhibition in Bath". 4 August 2010. Retrieved 2 May 2018 – via
  42. ^ "Shaped by War: Photographs by Don McCullin: 7 October 2011 – 15 April 2012" Imperial War Museum. Accessed 2 May 2018.
  43. ^ "Don McCullin: A Retrospective". Retrieved 2 May 2018.
  44. ^ "Don McCullin (Tate Britain exhibition)". Retrieved 24 February 2019.
  45. ^ "Don McCullin". Retrieved 22 November 2020.
  46. ^ Tate. "Don McCullin born 1935". Tate. Retrieved 2 May 2018.
  47. ^ "Search the Collections". Victoria and Albert Museum. Accessed 15 September 2017
  48. ^ "Search the Collection". National Portrait Gallery, London. Accessed 25 October 2022
  49. ^ a b c "Entre Vues : Frank Horvat – Don McCullin (London, August 1987)". Frank Horvat Photography. Retrieved 2 September 2013.
  50. ^ "BBC Radio 3 – Transcript of the John Tusa Interview with Don McCullin". Retrieved 25 November 2013.

External links[edit]