For its 30th edition the Bayeux Calvados-Normandy Award for War Correspondents is preparing to welcome one of the greatest names in photojournalism: British photojournalist Don (Donald) McCullin has accepted the invitation and agreed to take on the role of President of the International jury. Renowned for his black and white photos, he intends to make full use of his visit to Bayeux to spend time exchanging with his colleagues on his vision of the profession and the future of the news media. 

© Reg Stewart (courtesy Contact Press Images)

Since the publication in 1959 of his first photo in the British Observer, Don McCullin has been photographing war and the situation of the suffering, the destitute and the victims. The darkness of his images is equalled only by his humanity. “I’ve always pointed my camera in the direction of people who have no defence against their society, under-privileged people. I have to speak for the under-privileged.” Speak for them. Through his photos he would do this for more than half a century. Whether in deprived neighbourhoods of London or in the most far-flung war zones he would capture a situation, a gaze or an expression. “The story of a life can always be seen in the eyes of the victims.” He was able to feel, understand and reveal distress because he had experienced it himself.    “When I started to photograph war, I already knew about violence. My life began in a part of London which was full of poverty, racism, violence and criminals. I had to leave school when I was 14, when my father died. I had no destiny and no education. Until I made up my mind I didn’t want to become a criminal and took another journey from that place where I grew up as a boy.” So it would be his own background and his own sensibility rather than his education that would make him such an exceptional photographer.  “I’ve always had a very deep sense of feeling about humanity.”

“When I started to photograph war, I already knew about violence”

At the end of his military service in the Royal Air Force, during which he discovered both travel and photography, Don McCullin’s life took a major turn. Returning to London armed with a camera he immortalised his childhood friends, the Guv’nors gang, for posterity. The Observer newspaper published one of his photos to illustrate a crime story: this marked the start of his career. He quickly began to win major awards for his current affairs photography. In 1961 his report on the construction of the Berlin Wall received a British Press Award; in 1964 his coverage of the civil war in Cyprus was recognised by the distinguished World Press Photo award. In 1966 he signed an exclusive contract with The Sunday Times magazine, with which he would stay until 1984.  During this period he covered every conflict of the time – Vietnam, Cambodia, Congo, Israel, Biafra, Northern Ireland, Bangladesh, Lebanon, Chad, El Salvador, Iran, Uganda…. He also documented the famines in Bihar (India) and Biafra (Nigeria). His forays to the hearts of the world’s trouble spots didn’t leave him unscathed: he received a punctured eardrum, bullet wounds and fractures as well as imprisonment, expulsions and threats. The photographer admits as much:  “I paid in pain in many ways, and I’m lucky to be alive. But I couldn’t stop, I could have but there was something addictive about war. All those years I spent photographing war I thought I was doing something that was useful to our society, to explain what was going on in other places. What I was doing wasn’t personal: I was trying to show people the futility of war.”

“I was trying to show people the futility of war.”

Alongside his reports from overseas, Don McCullin continued to capture the deprivation ravaging his own country – deprived children in Bradford, down-and-outs in London, the working class of England’s industrial towns… “I’ve photographed a lot of poverty in England: there are 2 million people still living almost like dogs in this country. People don’t realise that.” His photographs of England in the 1970s were published in two books, Homecoming in 1979 and Hearts of Darkness in 1980. The latter, a retrospective of the first part of his career, would be the subject of an exhibition at the prestigious Victoria & Albert Museum in London in the year of its publication, and in New York the following year. It would be the start of a lengthy series of exhibitions around the world.  The decade that followed saw another turning point in Don McCullin’s career: although he continued to cover war and its impacts on populations, his drive to tell human stories began to be complemented in his fifties by a passion for landscapes. It was both a passion and a form of therapy.   “When you’ve spent so many years like me looking at war there’s no way you can ever chase away the images from your memory: there’s no treatment. Photographing landscapes helped me, I had to do something different. Instead of going to a psychiatrist I became my own psychiatrist by using my photographic knowledge. Half my memory now is war, and the other half is peace.”  After immortalising all that was worst in the world, Don McCullin would now capture the beauty it has to offer. “I don’t want to be remembered just as a war photographer of dead bodies and war and pain because I’ve also photographed the most beautiful things: I photographed flowers, landscapes, ethnic minority people in jungles. I’ve been all over the world photographing all kinds of things that are not war.” All over the world, certainly, but above all close to home, in the English countryside of Somerset.

“I don’t want to be remembered just as a war photographer, because I’ve also photographed the most beautiful things”

Since he’s no longer physically able to “climb over the hedgerows and fields and gates and travel the world” Don McCullin continues to work on books. Following on from his celebrated autobiography Unreasonable Behaviour, published in 1990 (appearing in France under the title Risques et périls) and numerous other books, in June 2023 he is to publish a collection devoted to the Roman heritage in Turkey. An exhibition in Rome will follow in October. It will be a busy autumn for this prolific photographer, who will preside over the international jury for the 30th Bayeux Calvados-Normandy Award for War Correspondents on 13 and 14 October. He is looking forward to meeting up with many of his colleagues there. “I’ve always been very happy being around journalists and photographers. They’ve been my life and I’m always happy when I’m with them. It will be an opportunity for me to hear what they think about the coverage of today’s conflicts, the work of photojournalists in the digital age of social networks. I wonder a lot about the future of the media, and these exchanges will be fascinating.”  As someone who has also lost many friends over the course of the years, and in particular French photographer Gilles Caron (who disappeared in Cambodia in 1970), the memorial ceremony held in Bayeux will be an important occasion. “We can’t forget all those who have died for this cause, people who have sacrificed their lives in journalism to bring the truth of our world to our news organisations. Young journalists have to be aware that only they can keep themselves alive, or keep journalism and the industry of journalism and the news media alive. I’m coming to Bayeux for many reasons, but above all I’d like to use my voice, my influence to say ‘We must keep our eyes open’.”

“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”. (

1935 – Donald McCullin is born in London
1961British Press Award for his report on the building of the Berlin Wall
1964World Press Photo for his coverage of the civil war in Cyprus
1971 – Publication of his first photo essay The Destruction Business
1979 – Publication of Homecoming
1980 – Publication of the collection Hearts of Darkness
1992 and 1993 – Prix Erich-Salomon, Appearance of Photo Poche no 53
1993 – Became the first photojournalist to be awarded the C.B.E  (Commander of the British Empire)
1995 – His archives are represented and distributed by Contact Press Images
2001 –  Publication of Don McCullin, a major retrospective
2005 – Exhibition at the Bayeux Award
2006 – Cornell-Capa Prize (Cornell Capa Infinity Award) at the International Center of Photography (ICP), New York
2007 – Publication of In England
2007 – Honoured by the Royal Photographic Society : honorary Fellowship (FRPS) and Centenary Medal for his contribution to the art of photography
2009 – Publication of the 30th Reporters Without Borders album
2010 – Publication of Southern Frontiers, A Journey Across the Roman Empire on ruins from the Roman empire
2013 – Honorary Gold Visa from Figaro Magazine
2016 – Lucie Award for photojournalism
2017 – Made a Knight Bachelor by the Queen for services to photography. Prince Charles presided at the ceremony.
2019 – Extensive retrospective at Tate Britain, London.
2020 – ICP Lifetime Achievement Award
2023 – President of the Jury for the 30th Bayeux Calvados-Normandy Award for War Correspondents