Albino Boy, Biafra

1969
Photograph by Don McCullin

This is one of the most obscene photographs I’ve ever taken.

Don McCullin

Albino Boy, Biafra

  • Don McCullin
  • 1969

Few remember Biafra, the tiny western African nation that split off from southern Nigeria in 1967 and was retaken less than three years later. Much of the world learned of the enormity of that brief struggle through images of the mass starvation and disease that took the lives of possibly millions. None proved as powerful as British war photographer Don McCullin’s picture of a 9-year-old albino child. “To be a starving Biafran orphan was to be in a most pitiable situation, but to be a starving albino Biafran was to be in a position beyond description,” McCullin wrote. “Dying of starvation, he was still among his peers an object of ostracism, ridicule and insult.” This photo profoundly influenced public opinion, pressured governments to take action, and led to massive airlifts of food, medicine and weapons. McCullin hoped that such stark images would be able to “break the hearts and spirits of secure people.” While public attention eventually shifted, McCullin’s work left a lasting legacy: he and other witnesses of the conflict inspired the launch of Doctors Without Borders, which delivers emergency medical support to those suffering from war, epidemics and disasters.

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