Artist Study – Giles Duley

Giles Duley was born in 1971 in London. After 10 years as an editorial photographer across fashion and music genres in both the US and Europe, Duley shifted his focus to humanitarian projects. Duley He has worked with well respected charities such as Sans Frontiers, IOM and UNHCR to highlight less widely known stories equally deserving of action and public attention. He has documented some horrific and challenging situations being sure to capture the strength of those who fight instead of succumbing to their problems. His photographs create empathy for lives varying in circumstances and allow the viewer to be drawn to the subject.

In 2011, whilst on patrol with 75th Cavalry Regiment, United States Army in Afghanistan, Duley stepped on an improvised explosive device (IED). He was severely injured, and became a triple amputee. He has since returned to work. His work has been exhibited and published worldwide in many respected publications including Vogue, GQ, Esquire, Rolling Stone, Sunday Times and others. In 2010 he was nominated for an Amnesty International Media Award and was a winner at the Prix de Paris in 2010 & 2012. His self-portrait was selected for the 2012 Taylor Wessing Exhibition at the National Portrait Gallery.

Self portrait – Taylor Wessing Photographic prize, 2012, Giles Duley

Duley’s work appeals to me because it is humanitarian and used to facilitate positive change for various members of society. His work deals with issues affecting a large proportion of society across continents . Duley has had to gain access to a range of communities and this takes both time and personal funding. He has successfully built up a network and is able to reconnect with people he meets in places as far as the Middle East! Whilst I am at a stage where I can still personally fund my long term documentary project, I do not have as much time. Duley’s longest and first project took 8 years.

The ability to use the camera as a tool for telling stories of marginalised communities is one that takes time and a lot of dedication and personal interest. For this assignment, I will be focusing on the series, A Family’s Story, Za’atari Refugee Camp. This series was done as a charity commission for Save The Children.

Below are my 3 key images for visual analysis.

Salwa waits for dinner, A Family’s Story, Jordan, Giles Duley

Image 1 – Salwa waits for dinner

  • The lighting in this image focuses on the child on the left hand side, and the slight vignette makes the detailed and ‘in-focus’ background, complimentary as opposed to distracting. especially behind the man in the centre.
  • The main focal point is the child and her environment. The child, the dinner and multiple cutlery pieces on the table help tell the story which is probably a justification for not blurring out the child’s background.
  • The light in this image is artificial – when you zoom in, the little girls eyes have evidence of on camera (or off) flash. Possibly a small flash gun, or continuous ring shaped LED lighting. The light enhances the message this photograph is sending.
  • This is a typical image by the photographer and lends itself heavily to photojournalism/using photography as a tool for societal change.
  • I think it is a successful image with the subject matter clearly indicated by what is in the image (a child, surrounded by patterned furnishings – rug, the cultural food and even the other child’s feet in the top right hand corner).
  • The composition of this image is quite interesting. Without the slanted image, and the whole image in focus, the message of this image would not be as strong.
  • In addition, the patterns in this image add to the setting of this story being in that part of the world (Jordan) whilst the presence of a child draws empathy and makes the story relatable. These composition choices appear to be intentional.
  • This image tells a story, the story is just as strong as a series, as well as this image on its own.
Amin holds his youngest daughter Safa who was born in the camp 8 months ago. The family sees her as a blessing that has helped them get through the hardships of the camp, 2014, Jordan, Giles Duley

Image 2 – Amin holds his youngest daughter Safa…

  • The lighting in this image draws immediate attention to Safa, in her fathers arms.
  • The main focal point is the little girl, Safa.
  • The light appears to be artificial – from a flash gun, and emphasises the Safa more than Amin, her father.
  • This is a typical image by the photographer and lends itself heavily to humanitarian and emotive photojournalism.
  • I think it is a successful image with the subject matter clearly indicated by the subjects of the image (father and daughter) as well as the feelings it evokes straight away – empathy, familiarity and a sense of compassion.
  • The composition of this image is quite interesting. The image has been cropped quite closely, to really remove any distracting background elements.This image is very strong on its own but also, with the series.
Amin washes his feet before prayer, Jordan, 2014, Giles Duley

Image 3 – Amin washes his feet before prayer

  • The lighting in this image creates a strong and moody photograph.
  • The main focal point is the right foot that the water is washing.
  • The light appears to be a combination of natural (daylight) and flash light, as there is a difference in light distribution between the arms – top part of the image, and the feet which are lower.
  • This is a typical image by the photographer and lends itself heavily to humanitarian work.
  • I think it is a successful image with the subject matter clearly indicated by what is in the image’s foreground (Amin washing his right foot) in contrast to the background (filled with stones/pebbles and the other parts of Amin’s body). It is strong for two reasons, it freezes the act and it shows a portrait without a face.
  • The composition of this image is quite interesting and this image tells a story, both on its own and as part of a series.
Amin’s family, Jordan, 2014, Giles Duley

Artist processes/materials used

Duley works both in black and white and in colour. Based on some of his behind the scenes/travel companion photos, I have seen that he uses a Canon DSLR for his work. In some of the earlier series however, it is possible that this work was completed on film. Cost throughout the process is important to Duley as he sells his prints at around £130. It is highly unlikely that film work can be sold so cheaply. His digital work is printed in a special way (inkjet photographic paper) and sold until the series is no longer available. He has also produced a number of books, images for campaigns and posters.

Long term documentary photography projects where one is required to live in an environment other than their own, means a change in access to amenities such as electricity (important for photography battery charging). This implies, that it is more practical to complete such a project on film photography. Duley has however, gone against this norm. He also combines statistics and facts with his humanitarian work to give it some context and an extra dynamic. For example:

“We have rights to dream and rights to achieve those dreams” – Amin

3 years of war.
6.5 million internally displaced people.
2.4 million Syrian refugees.
560,000 in Jordan alone.
Za’atari Camp with over 100,000 refugees.

Siwar, Amin and their five children.
One family.

Key elements taken for my own practise

As a result of looking at A Family’s Story, I will:

  • Produce an edit of analogue styled  black and white work which contains portraits with detail of the subject’s environment
  • Combine other elements into the final story besides photographs – such as statistics which can be used to represent the societal issue in question
  • Consider which other publications – besides a book, can used to present the story of the people represented and initiate a positive change

(no date) Available at: (Accessed: 11 December 2016).

(no date) Available at: (Accessed: 11 December 2016).

Duley, G (no date) Available at: (Accessed: 11 December 2016).

Duley, G. (2013) Giles Duley: ’I lost three limbs in Afghanistan, but had to go back …  ‘. Available at: (Accessed: 11 December 2016).

Duley, G. (2012) When a reporter becomes the story. Available at: (Accessed: 11 December 2016).