Hamilton grew up in London. His schooling was interrupted by World War II. As an evacuee, he spent some time in the countryside of Dorset, which inspired his work until today. After the war, Hamilton returned to London and finished school before moving to France where he has lived ever since.
As much of Hamilton's work depicts early-teen girls, often nude, he has been the subject of some controversy and even child pornography allegations, mostly from North America and Britain, similar to that which the work of Sally Mann and Jock Sturges have attracted. In the late 1990s, some people protested bookstores that stocked Hamilton's photography books but their efforts came to nothing. Because of differing attitudes regarding age and nudity, Hamilton has not received this negative attention in his adopted home of France, nor in the rest of the world.
In 2005, a member of the Surrey Police in Britain "wrongly claimed" that possessing Hamilton books was now illegal in the UK. Surrey Police were later forced to make a formal apology for the incorrect and unsubstantiated allegations made by Detective constable Simon Ledger (see: British Journal of Photography, September 2005), and admitted that no legally binding decision had been made on the work of David Hamilton.
The Guardian (UK), June 23, 2005, wrote: Hamilton's photographs have long been at the forefront of the "is it art or pornography?" debate. Glenn Holland, spokesman for the 73-year-old photographer, who lives in St. Tropez, said: "We are deeply saddened and disappointed by this, as David is one of the most successful art photographers the world has ever known. His books have sold millions".