McCullin was born in 1935 in London’s Finsbury Park, a poor and rough area at the time. Leaving school at fifteen with no qualifications, McCullin signed up to National Service in the RAF as a photographic assistant. In 1959, McCullin took his first published photograph of The Guvnors, a London gang who had been involved in a murder. This inimitable image appeared in The Observer that same year. It was this, teamed with his decision based on nothing more than his own intuition to go to Berlin to photograph the start of the building of the Wall, which secured his contract with The Observer in 1961.

Between 1966 and 1984, McCullin worked for The Sunday Times Magazine. At the time, The Sunday Times was at the cutting edge of investigative, critical journalism. During this period, McCullin’s assignments included Biafra, the Belgian Congo, the Northern Irish ‘Troubles’, Bangladesh and the Lebanese civil war. It is his photographs of Vietnam and Cambodia that have become among the most famous and well-recognised.