Don McCullin

Text by David Bailey Portrait by David Bailey Most Read Photography

How can one not like Don?

I search his eyes and wonder what is stored on his hard drive. A life spent seeing the injustices of humanity. I call it seeing, not just looking. The word for Don is feeling, which is the same as seeing for me.

Don is often called a war photographer—this is very misleading. “War Photographer” is a great word for journalists to grab a headline.

Don and I are about the same age. He grew up in working-class north London, Finsbury Park, and I in East Ham, through the Blitz. Don was evacuated but apart from that we must have had similar experiences both of us being dyslexic and all the problems that came with it, such as treating dyslexics like they were stupid. As my headmaster told my mother, “Somebody has got to dig the roads.”

We did National Service in the Air Force. Don was told he could not be a photographer and I was told the same, because it would have been impossible for either of us to take written tests.

We both encountered the street gangs, in my case “The Barking Boys.” Three of them beat me up for dancing with the wrong girl (Eileen Wortham), who Terence Stamp had eyes for also.

The Barking Boys left me unconscious in the doorway of a furniture store all night. I was woken up by a very thin tall man who I mistakenly thought was helping me. The next thing I knew he was trying to stick his tongue in my mouth. Out of the frying pan, into the fire. One good thing that came out of all this was I was now protected by the Barking Boys because I had not reported it to the police. No one would complain to the police. They were trusted less in the East End; everyone kept away from them. I’m sure Don had similar encounters. I guess both being put in the Air Force helped us get a new perspective on the way things worked.



This is a lead-up to the two most important photographs we made in the same year, 1959, on bomb sites, which I suppose was not so surprising, as bomb sites were our playgrounds. We did not know each other. We met a few years later with Terence Donovan, another with similar stories.

Unfortunately, I don’t see Don so much now, but six months ago I bumped into him in a John Lewis department store. He said in amazement, “What you doing here?!” I replied, in even more amazement, with the same question. I would not have been surprised to bump into him in Afghanistan or Sudan, but John Lewis?

I’m so happy to have spent the last 60 years doing what we both could not help doing, something we love. Keep it up, Don. See you in 10 years, maybe in that famous department store.

Love you, Bailey






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