Photographer Giles Duley worked as a portrait photographer for 10 years before cynicism with celebrity culture took him in the direction of humanitarian issues. He had always hoped to return to portraiture, but while working in Afghanistan in 2011 he stepped on a landmine. It’s a miracle he survived as most soldiers who have an arm and two legs blown off do not make it. During the ensuing 46 days fighting for his life trapped inside his body, Giles imagined all the portraits he wanted to take, aware that now he’d probably never get the chance. He resolved that if by some chance he made it through he’d contact the names on his list and ask them to sit for a portrait.

Two years, 30 operations and a long rehabilitation later he has begun his journey on this website:

The writing is fantastic:

I’ve had to hire all the equipment and I desperately trying to get it all set up in time with my assistant Noemie. It seems during my ten-year hiatus even the lighting stands have changed. I’m fumbling around trying just to set that up, it’s the most basic piece of kit here, but every time I let go of the stand, it just collapses and keels over. I’m the photographic equivalent of the embarrassing dancing dad at a wedding disco; a head full of fabled disco day memories, a present day of uncoordinated reality.

I decided to make a coffee but even there I’m faced with a NASA style interface and am left bewildered and coffee less.

In my planning I’d always thought the moments leading up to my first portrait would be a time of calm and reflection. A time to consider my subject and to focus on how I was going to record their essence in a single frame. Instead I’m a wreck, sweating like crazy and talking inanely to myself.

I’m also aware that I’ve underestimated the power of the lights. The 2.5k tungsten’s aren’t giving out enough light to make my set-up work as I’d hoped.

And it gets worse; I made a last minute decision to shoot this project on a medium format camera, something I was did all the time when I worked in studios. These larger format cameras are bulkier, but well suited to a studio where the produce much more detail in the finished images.

The last ten years though have seen a revolution. Last time I shot in a studio it was on film. Now I have a digital Hasselblad in my hands and I have no idea how it works. Naively I thought it couldn’t be that complicated, but I can’t even turn it on.

I’m looking forward to following the journey with Giles. Join me.

thx, Myles

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  1. Thank you so much for posting this. How moving this story is. As I looked at the honest and brave portrait of Giles Duley I felt so much hope for his new project and said a prayer for his success. And of course, who couldn’t sympathize with this frustration — as all of us who learned photography with film and darkrooms and then made the transition to digital have similarly struggled. I would be so grateful if you could continue posts on Duley’s portrait project. If he produces a book at the end I would love to purchase it. Good luck Giles. Your photos will be beautiful, I know.

  2. Wow. Quelle histoire! À voir, as we say up here in Québec. Courage, Giles.

  3. The writing is lovely and pulls you in. And what an inspiration. 10 years – but finally doing what he set up despite challenges like a new digital medium format camera, which I only wish I could set my hands on. :)

  4. I will be following up on this frequently. It should be inspiring to those who say there is not a climate in this day and age of camera phones and everyone wanting to be a photographer.

  5. One by one, you’ll get ’em!
    I don’t know which I admire most, your courage or your determination.
    And, oh yeah. Photography’s still the same. It’s the confusion of getting
    over more buttons to push and way too many options.

  6. Wow, that is an amazing story, I will definitely be following Giles journey. Thanks for sharing this.

  7. Just saw the doco about his return to Afghanistan. Wow, what a challenge. It can be viewed here

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