The N-Photo Interview
As a curtain raiser for his talk at The Photography Show in March, the legendary Don McCullin talks to Geoff Harris
Legendary photojournalist Don McCullin talks about life on the front line
on McCullin has been taking hard-hitting news photos since
the late 1950s. We asked him about his tough early years, the development of his technique, why he’s sick and tired of his most famous war image, and why he wants to be remembered more for his landscapes...
To start at the beginning, we wondered if your talent for expressing yourself visually may have arisen as a result of you suffering from dyslexia as a child?
I’ve always struggled to read, and I miss things; it’s a bloody nuisance, but I don’t believe that quitting or surrendering to a disability is the right thing to do. Always fight the things that handicap you in life. And I am certain that one half of my brain is open to visual arts, as much as it is to music – I’m very fond of classical music. So if I fall down on dyslexia, it’s not the greatest tragedy. You’ve talked a lot about your tough childhood. Your father gambled and died young, your mother drank, and you were mistreated as an evacuee during the war. Did you have any awareness of or interest in photography as a child? None at all. I first became aware of it when I saw pictures from the war – the liberation of Belsen, for instance. I didn’t come from a particularly scholarly background, and I was disobedient and played truant a lot. There was one art master who persuaded me to take a scholarship to get into Hammersmith School of Arts and Crafts, although it was more associated with the building trade and bricklaying. I used to abscond to look at birds. You ended up working as a photographer’s assistant in the RAF. Is that where your career started? Not really. In fact, I failed my trade test to become an aerial photographer in the RAF. I couldn’t remember enough to pass the theory paper, and my dyslexia made it hard. I did buy my first camera when I was in the RAF, however – a Rolleicord. So how did you get started as a serious photographer? When I left the RAF I started mixing with budding photographers and enjoying