An Interview with Giles Duley

Judges Interviews

Giles Duley

Documentary Photographer

Judging all the entries for the inaugural Creative Conscience Awards:UK is proving to be a long process. It is also a deeply inspiring one. Not just because of the awesome quality of the entries we’ve received but because we also get to spend quality time with some of the creatives we most admire.

Aside from the judging, we’ve been chatting about what inspires them and why they’ve chosen to become part of this ambitious initiative.

Here’s what the legendary documentary photographer, Giles Duley had to say…

What is the single most interesting brief you’ve worked on during your career?

I haven’t liked a lot of the briefs I’ve been given in the past because most editors have an idea of what a story will look like when it’s finished. In my view, you have to go out there and see what the story looks like before you scope it. I now set the briefs for myself and let the stories evolve.

Who has been your biggest influence?

Without a doubt, Don McCullin, the photographer. When I was 18, I had a car accident and my Godfather gave me a book of Don’s work and an Olympus camera. I was in hospital for a long time – enough time to get inspired and to teach myself photography!

Previous to the accident, I was very sporty so I’d never known that kind of creative inspiration before. Newly inspired, I got into Bournemouth art college with someone else’s portfolio, including a few pictures of my own. I was eventually found out but I still got a place because the tutors were impressed with my determination and fearless ambition.

Professionally speaking, I started out on the music scene – because of the gorgeous women and great parties – and it was a long time before I was able to follow my dream of becoming a documentary photographer. Now, the single thing that inspires me the most is people; I’m really interested in people and those moments when I get to live in someone else’s life. That’s my passport to the stories I discover. When I travel towards a story, I’m never the tourist; I am there, present in the every day lives of the people whose story I want to tell – for me, that is a great privilege.

What is the greatest piece of advice you’ve ever been given?

I’m trying to think if I’ve ever listened to advice! In fact, despite my efforts to get into college, I left after a few months because I couldn’t stand being told what to do and I never worked as a photographer’s assistant. I’ve always done my own thing, so the route to success took a lot longer for me than it did for everyone else.

What advice would you give a creative student today?

To remember that the art of photography is relatively simple – it’s true, you really can just point a camera and press a button to get a fairly decent result. However, it took me years to learn where to point the camera in order to get the images I was looking for and it was incredibly important for me to learn the importance of enabling people to tell their own stories without applying the veneer of my own ego onto them. For me, that was an organic process. The other important thing that I learned was never to take a photograph of someone in a way that you wouldn’t like to be portrayed yourself, you have to connect with that person and tell their story in a way that leaves their dignity intact.

In this culture of fear and cautiousness, what is the future of design?

I find it funny that a lot of photographers today get upset that virtually anyone can produce the quality of photography that wouldn’t have been possible before. For me, that’s great! The most exciting time for a photographer is now; there has never been a time more empowering, democratic and open. What is true today is that it is much harder for a photographer to make a living out of their art – even I don’t earn any money from my documentary work – but, the important thing is that I am happy. Creatively, I’m doing what I want to do and making money from pole dancing and other forms of prostitution – in other words, I sell prints, I do talks, I use crowd-funding to raise money that enables me to undertake projects that are designed to raise awareness of particular issues; whatever it takes to keep the money coming in without compromising my art and my determination to tell other people’s stories.

The point is that, these days, you have to think outside of the box to find a way of doing the things that make you happy. If you really want to do something, you’ll find a way.

What is it about this initiative that has inspired you to get involved?

I like the way you are encouraging creative work that isn’t just about commercial value. These days colleges and art schools are focused on getting students into commercial photography in order to make a living. It’s good to see an initiative that is designed to encourage conceptual work that has a value to society.

How does your creative conscience express itself in your work?

I tell the stories that people need to hear.

That said, I’m going to take a break for a few months and take some pretty pictures. My girlfriend and family have stood by me throughout my recovery and I owe it to them to be around for a while and to take myself out of danger.

Interview by: Kate Burton