• Gd7
  • Gd13
  • Gd3
  • Gd1
  • Gd2
  • Gd10
  • Gd4
  • Gd5
  • Gd6
  • Gd8
  • Gd11
  • Gd12
  • Gd14
Photography

Giles Duley: Becoming the Story

Posted by Rob Alderson,

It is almost nine months since photographer Giles Duley was blown up by an improvised explosive device in Afghanistan, leaving him without both legs and his left arm. Yesterday we went to meet him as he put the final touches to his new London show, Becoming the Story, and found out that he is a man on an artistic mission – to tell stories other people don’t know how to tackle. In this in-depth interview, he explains why he was so driven to tell these hidden stories, and why he’s determined to keep doing so.

One day in 2002 – after a row with a former Big Brother contestant – Giles Duley walked off a shoot and turned his back on the world of music, fashion and celebrity photography, vowing to use his camera for more worthwhile purposes (work he would mainly finance himself).

His new show, opening this week at KK Outlet in Hoxton Square showcases the extraordinary fruits of that career-change: “This work represents what I have done since making that decision,” he said.

“I have an issue that a lot of photography is driven by financial constraints – a lot of stories are not being told because they are not commercially viable.

“There’s a picture in this show of a Sudanese woman giving birth and the baby died – it won an award so I know it’s not a shit picture and yet nobody would publish it. In a sense that means it has got no value, but how can you look at that picture and say it’s got no value?”

The pictures in this exhibition – from Angola, Bangladesh and Sudan – record complex, ongoing, yet no-less-harrowing humanitarian crises which the mainstream media often show little appetite for.

“I think what is worrying is the way we get obsessed with certain events. I don’t think we are scared to show pictures that show suffering – some of the pictures from Haiti were very graphic, but the media needs it to be an event, with that structure. They struggle if we are documenting something which has been going on for 20 years.

“I am often reluctant to put dates on the pictures because these things are generally timeless.

“You don’t really get people on the news saying: ‘Here’s a lot of people suffering, they have been suffering for 20 years and they will go on suffering. We just thought we should point it out.’

“But it’s hugely important that we’re aware. Because I am not a news photographer I can look at a picture I took five years ago, go back there today and take the same picture. That’s the tragedy, that nothing’s changed.”

One such project involved photographing the Burmese refugees in Bangladesh, forced to flee persecution but recognised neither in their new land or, mostly, by the UN.

“There are just 25,000 people living in this camp and dying for the most ridiculous reasons that could be so easily sorted out – one little boy died because he got rice in his eye, scratched it and got an infection.


“When I turned up it was like a Biblical scene, like they thought they were going to get healed. It was really overwhelming. I have never cried taking pictures, apart from that day.

“I am taking a picture to tell their story – it’s my duty to get it published and if I don’t I feel like I’ve failed. I feel like I’ve let them down.”

He recounts with bitterness the story of the editor who asked him to reshoot a series of pictures of Angolan children blown up by land mines – with some pigs in.

“He had read somewhere pigs were used to sniff out land mines and said that people like pigs. Where do you start with that?”

Inspired by the American Government-funded pictures of The Great Depression and the J.P Morgan bankrolled study of Native Americans, Giles has set up Document, due to launch next year: “To get private investors to give money so stuff can be documented purely because it should be.”

For now there’s the KK Outlet show which includes not only an unbelievably powerful self-portrait of Giles sitting on a plinth, but also shots taken by David Bowering in the immediate aftermath of the explosion, which occurred while he was on patrol with US soldiers in Sangsar.

He admits it was a “really difficult decision” to include them, but in the end he was left with no choice.

“There’s a certain element that I did not want people to see me at that moment, like when you are a kid and you fall and cut your knee but you don’t want your mates to see you’re upset so you run round the corner and cry.

“Also it’s hard for my family and friends, but how could I not allow these to be published and then ever take another picture myself?

“My work is all about telling stories – communicating my feelings about war and in a way I see my body has become like installation art, a statement about what war does to people. I may as well use that as much as possible.

“The self portrait goes against my instincts – I spend most of my time wanting people not to see me in this way, but this is it. This is the reality. It was quite a cathartic moment.”

Giles has no doubts he wants to return to photography, to Afghanistan even, and hopes he can inspire others affected by the such life-changing incidents.

“It’s frustrating at the moment. I would much rather be out in the field than in a gallery,” he says.

Ra

Posted by Rob Alderson

Editor-in-Chief Rob oversees editorial across all three It’s Nice That platforms; online, print and events. He has a background in newspaper journalism and a particular interest in art, advertising and photography. He is the main host of the Studio Audience podcast.

Most Recent: Photography View Archive

  1. List

    In the last couple of weeks the professional football season has returned in all its overhyped glory, but for thousands of amateurs around the UK it’s the start of the Sunday League season that really matters.

  2. List

    Photographer Viviane Sassen has crafted an aesthetic which operates way beyond the traditional confines of her medium. She’s previously made work which would be considered fashion photography, for example, but in which the clothes featured never seem to be the driving force behind the image. Similarly, her latest series Axiom toys with notions of light, colour and illusion in a way which seems to lean towards graphic art, but each image meshes the three elements together so effortlessly that you scarcely have time to ponder the idea behind it.

  3. Main9

    In an untidy apartment in Milan, a lion roars. Nearby, an armadillo sniffs a pile of papers. An ibex is fed up; he can’t see very well for all the bubble wrap around his head. But these aren’t escapees from the zoo; they’re a failed diorama.

  4. Main

    Hey there’s a big floppy pepperoni on that Palomino! Most days I’d find the idea of wasted pizza an atrocity not worthy of further promotion, but I guess this photo series is kind of different. In a somewhat strange diversion from his otherwise rather professional work, this photographer has chosen to take countless pizzas into the great outdoors and capture them against the backdrop of the natural world. Jonpaul Douglass, whose name is a little like someone drunkenly writing John Paul Douglas, has snapped the humble pizza on sun loungers, in bushes, draped over basketball hoops, and even clinging for dear life over the barrel of a military tank. Why is this good? It just is; the quality of the photos is terrific, and ten extra points to Jonpaul who braved looking mega-weird in public to get these shots.

  5. Main3

    Canadian-born photographer Stephanie Noritz lives and works in New York where she freelances for the likes of Monocle, Bloomberg Businessweek, Dazed and Confused and New York Magazine amongst others. Her imagery is defined by sharp lighting, relaxed atmosphere and – most importantly – a youthful subject matter – whether that’s kids skating vert ramps or fast-paced little league games.

  6. Main6

    “AMERICA: Who Stole The Dream?” reads a poster in the newsroom of The Philadelphia Inquirer. Amid towering piles of papers and notepads, styrofoam coffee cups and creaking, half-broken office chairs, this is the question asked by photographer and writer Will Steacy.

  7. Image-11

    Here at It’s Nice That we spend an awful lot of time talking about, thinking about and writing about creatives but ultimately we don’t get too many chances to really see what goes on in their day-to-day working lives…until now. Our new collaboration with super-cool eyewear brand Ace & Tate – who believe in great design and ultimate customer choice – is taking us inside the studios, and inside the minds, of a host of some of our favourite creatives.

  8. Kok-list

    Palm Springs-based photographer Brian Pescador is leading a double life. By day he makes his living chopping locks and trimming beards as a travelling barber, and by night (also quite often during the day, but presumably when he’s not cutting hair) he’s an incredibly talented photographer. Naturally as a resident of the Coachella Valley, he’s got a wealth of stunning scenery to go out and shoot whenever he sees fit, but the best of his photography marries the people and places of his homeland into an idyllic portrait of youthful hedonism.

  9. Main67

    The curious work of Corinne Day seems to rear its ever-appealing head every now and again, just to remind us of a time gone by that we weren’t part of, and will never fully understand. Gaining worldwide notoriety with her famous, career-making shots of a teen Kate Moss on Camber Sands for The Face, Corinne’s groundbreaking photographs of quintessentially British, black-soled urchins were to become stuff of legend. Contrived shoots of hired models were never her thing, instead Corinne lifted her lens to those closest to her – the ones doing the washing up, smoking fags out of windows, watching telly. The fact that all her friends were rebellious models was just a bonus.

  10. List

    There are several times in your life when you look quite ridiculous and have no choice but to embrace it; at the dentist, with a mouthful of rubber glove and some green gunge, for example, or when you’re playing Twister and you have to stretch from one end of the mat to the other with a single left foot. When you come out the end of a water slide is a pretty solid one too, as Krista Long points out; you’re too busy trying to retrieve your bikini bottoms from where they’ve disappeared to without swallowing vast amounts of pool water to even think twice about what you’re doing with your face. (Hint, you look hilarious.)

  11. Main

    There’s a reason behind the popular notion that black and white photography makes people appear better looking – it’s true. Not saying for a minute mind you that the girls that Jeff Boudreau has photographed of late aren’t some of the most beautiful, dewy creatures walking the earth, but there is a certain charm about their monochromatic portraits that you perhaps wouldn’t get with colour film. Jeff is from Florida but now lives and works in London, filling his days with editorial fashion shoots and advertising briefs. This latest personal series compares his subjects to wild flowers in the dark – beautiful.

  12. List

    I always find it quite beguiling to look at contemporary artwork which looks like it belongs to another time, and Emma Hartvig’s oddly captivating images are a prime example of this kind of displacement. Born in Sweden but based in London, Emma photographs nudes, somehow succeeding in imbuing the human form with all of the surreal static energy of a Vermeer painting. Her photographs are shot through with shimmering satin and velvet which serves to frame her subjects as though they were pieces of half-decayed fruit carefully laid out ready to paint. What’s more, she does all of this through photography, pushing her camera to function as though it were a set of oils. The result is impressive and quietly beautiful.

  13. Main9_11.27.27

    We’re all pretty used to Tumblrs chock-full of palpable images of half-naked, creamy fleshed men and women surrounded by bowls of figs, cherry blossom and thrift store rugs. Maybe one of them is casually smoking a cigarette out of a car window on a lakeside road trip, perhaps one is clutching a can of beer, wrapped in a towel after skinny-dipping, laughing into the night.