Born in a derelict area of London in 1935, self-taught, Don McCullin had to leave school at the age of 14 to work, and became a photographer almost by accident. “Photography chose me more than I chose photography“, he confesses. Having covered conflicts and battlefields in Cyprus, Congo, Vietnam, Biafra, the Middle-East, Bangladesh, El Salvador, and more recently in Iraq and Syria, he is acclaimed as one of history's greatest war photographers. He is the author of over a dozen books and recently published an updated edition of his best-selling autobiography Unreasonable Behaviour (Jonathan Cape, London, 2015). McCullin is the recipient of numerous highly prestigious awards and was given a knighthood by Queen Elisabeth II. He recently revisited his life’s work — his war pictures as well as his landscapes of the British countryside — and published a large-size three-volume limited edition retrospective under the title Irreconcilable Truths.
For International Geneva, Don McCullin chose this photograph of a twenty-four-year-old mother and her child during the civil war in the secessionist province of Biafra in Nigeria at the end of the sixties. Don McCullin along with his friend and competitor, French photographer Gilles Caron, were among the handful of photographers who covered the conflict and the terrible famine that resulted. Their work helped to raise awareness in the international public opinion and bring support to humanitarian operations initiated by NGOs such as Oxfam, and also Concern and Médecins sans frontières (MSF) that were born of the conflict.
“When I first went to war, I thought it was very exciting and adventurous. After a while, I discovered it was at the cost of terrible suffering. It was not until I went to Biafra, and walked into those camps and saw dying children that I started realising that the war itself is not what we should be talking about. We should be talking about the innocent bystanders. I do not know if this mother and child survived. At the time it was very difficult to find out.“