Don McCullin, 59, is a photographer best known for his pictures of wars. He lives alone in Somerset.

THERE are ghosts in my house. All my negatives are stored there and at night I can feel the terrible energy of those images: people wounded, dying, soldiers crying . . . all the tragedies I've ever witnessed come back to visit me.

I live alone and sleep with a huge machete under my bed in case of intruders. I have the curtains open at night because if I wake up I want to know where I am. When the moon comes through the window I feel comforted by it. It becomes a companion, brings light.

My darkroom is like an extension of my bedroom, a dark place that encloses me. I have a mirror there so that I can look at myself and not feel so alone. Through the magic of photography an image of a dead baby in Bangladesh comes up from a plain piece of paper and greets me again.

When I lie in bed at night I see the events surrounding the pictures I've been printing. It's a three-dimensional visitation embedded in the senses: I can smell the burning mattresses, the clotted blood; I hear the flies buzzing in people's wounds, bullets shattering a skull. It's too much, really.

I have frequent nightmares, but once a month I can't sleep at all. My mind refuses to shut off. Tragedy after tragedy recurs in front of my closed eyes. I have no religious belief to comfort me - how could I after everything I've seen? I used to drink but that doesn't bring oblivion, just a kind of lightness in the body.

On those nights children I've seen in Vietnam return deep in shock, burned from head to foot. Or I'm back in Cambodia, wading through paddy fields and dead bodies, the water red with blood; once I was trying to escape a hail of bullets when one smacked into my camera. I recall how the shock hit me 10 minutes later and I knelt on the ground and wept. The worst memories are of being in prison in Uganda with people being tortured in the next cell, executions in the yard, the trucks coming at dawn to take the night's crop of corpses away, and me wondering if I'd be next, the walls of my cell covered in blood.

Even after so many years these ghosts still come back in full definition. How I haven't gone potty I don't know. I have been damaged by my experiences, certainly I am melancholic and will carry my pain to my grave . . . but I don't deserve sympathy. I went voluntarily. That's the price I should pay for the success I've had taking pictures of others' suffering.

I was married for many years and had a family to come home to. It was very strange to return from the world's greatest insane asylum to a leafy avenue in Hampstead Garden Suburb. From sleeping next to dead soldiers in the mud in Cambodia to our cosy little bedroom. I can remember lying on our bed when I'd come home injured, bloodstained bandages on my legs, and my children peeking round the door at me, terrified. I unbalanced my life. I didn't know where I was. I was nowhere, somewhere in between. Every evening I'd make them all be silent as I listened to the news bulletins looking for the next place to go.

My wife died six years ago. I'd left her for another woman and felt so much shame when I went back to be with her at the end. I went into her bedroom one morning and she was dead. It was the day of our son's wedding, would you believe. I had to pull my belt in another notch and remind myself that I'd been through other people's wars and sorrows. Now that tragedy had come to my own front door I really had to show my mettle. Of course I have my regrets.

I've been with my American (Marilyn Bridges, a photographer) for two years now but she lives in the States which is frustrating. When I'm with her I can live a life outside this shell which encloses my memories. I stayed with her for five weeks recently in her big cedarwood house in upstate New York. At night I'd lie beside her and listen to the crickets and frogs outside - which should have been wonderful - except it took me straight back to the jungles of Vietnam.

I had a terrible nightmare in her bed and screamed out loud. She elbowed me in the ribs. I said: 'I'm sorry but next time could you be more gentle?' and she laughed. I'm too old to scream. I wish I could have a nice dream but I never do. I'd like to dream about making love to women. In Somerset I go to bed at nine o'clock because I haven't got anybody to talk to. I look at photography books and art books - even at my age I still want to learn as much as I can. I don't have any of my own pictures on the walls. There are drawings of orchids in my bedroom and these days I'm taking pictures of flowers and landscapes myself . . . as an antidote, trying to calm down the burning skin on this body I've got.

For some reason I've recently started reading war novels in bed. They keep me awake because they too bring back memories. I've just got this one-track mind. I'd never go to a war zone again but the truth is I do miss it. It's the only unhealthy thing about me. And I wish to God I could stop.

(Photograph omitted)

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