Does life hand us challenges that we may grow strong enough to recognize fully the challenges of others? If you ask Giles Duley, he might recommend that you take photos of the event to use as teaching tools later, or he might simply nod, saying something like “Hey, it worked for me.”
He says proudly “My friends love the idea of me being half man, half camera.”
Giles Duley was a sought-after fashion photographer, a bringer of beauty into the lives of those seeking examples of it. For him, it wasn’t enough. He needed to do something that meant more to him and to others; something of value.
After circumstances forced him to change gears for a while, Duley began traveling. He wanted to tell the stories of those who were forgotten, overlooked, or ignored. By the time he arrived in Afghanistan, he’d been seasoned by the lives of those who suffer, those who fall through international and cultural cracks.
“Do you ever have one of those mornings, when you just can’t be bothered to put your legs on”? ~ Giles Duley
While on patrol with a U.S. Army unit, “…Duley turned to talk to an American soldier. And, at once, he felt “a click in my right leg” – the pressure plate that set off the landmine. “It is pretty instantaneous from click to explosion. And yet everything seemed to go into slow motion. I was tossed by the blast but there was not much noise – just bright, white, hot light. I remember seeing myself from outside my body. Not a religious experience but intense heat and fire and the strangely calm sense of flying through the air.”
“…You go to a place that is beyond pain. It is funny how it is almost more painful to fall over and scrape your knee than to be blown up. Your body goes into incredible protection mode …There were white bones where the fingers should have been, the skin was peeled back off the hand and smouldering. It was like a horror film. I was terrified I might be paralysed because I tried to sit up but could not move …I could see clearly, I had my right hand. I could think. And what I thought was, I can still work as a photographer…” ~ The Guardian
Giles completed his rehab in England. He’s not given up his photography. He says his injuries have helped him to understand, to fit in with, those who have suffered without the rest of the world noticing. He can now expose those things instinctively noted and photographed with more respect than ever.
His talks about his experience, about his work, and draws hundreds to his words, as well as to his photos. Duley’s honesty about who he is and where he’s been, stands testament to his determination to be “part of the story” as he spreads his images out for the world to evaluate. It has been said that empathy is his gift. Having listened to him speak, I’d have to agree.