Duley, a leading British photographer, is a triple amputee. He stepped on a landmine while taking photos of American soldiers in Afghanistan last year.
Anchor Lisa Mullins speaks with Duley about his road to recovery and his perspective on the Paralympics.
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Lisa Mullins: I’m Lisa Mullins and this is The World. Giles Duley is a leading British photographer. He takes portraits, mostly in black and white. He’s photographed former soldiers in Angola and refugees in Bangladesh, and U.S. Army soldiers on patrol in Afghanistan. It was on that assignment, last year in Afghanistan, that he almost lost his life. Duley lost both his legs and his left arm after he stepped on a land mine. After months of surgeries and rehabilitation, he’s now back at work taking pictures, and his first assignment is to be one of the official photographers at the Paralympic Games. Giles Duley is now in London. What is it like, Giles, to be on your first assignment after all that reahab and all those surgeries?
Giles Duley: I can’t even start to explain how fantastic it feels. You know, from the day one, in fact within minutes of the explosion, I remember thinking to myself, I can still see, I still have my right hand, in my mind I’m still a photographer. But the actual battle to put that into the practical elements of being able to walk and be up taking photographs, it’s been a long journey, and so it was a moment of a victory I guess to be going into the Paralympics.
Mullins: Tell us, if you will, Giles, what happened in Afghanistan?
Duley: Yeah, I was imbedded with a unit from the 101st Airborne and we were out on patrol. We’d been ambushed a few days in a row, and so we were going on patrol to check out one of the compounds where we’d been ambushed from. It was actually a relatively quiet moment. We’d surrounded the compound, everything seemed okay there. Guys had just laid a perimeter around and I turned to talk to one of them, and as I turned I felt the click and realized I’d stepped on an IED.
Mullins: An improvised explosive device.
Duley: That’s right.
Mullins: And then what?
Duley: I never actually lost consciousness. I just remember a huge, great white heat, I would describe it as, a sensation of flying through the air, and then I landed with a thud on my side, and immediately it was clear that I’d lost my legs and my arm. I remember looking up and seeing a little bit of boxer shorts in the trees and thinking that wasn’t a good sign. But I was lucky, I mean, the guys with me, one of the chief medics from the 101st happened to be on the patrol, the sergeant on the patrol, they were fantastic. They got to me quick, got the tourniquets on, chatting to me and really just were incredible and saved my life.
Mullins: There’s so much to talk about in terms of your own story, but can you maybe encapsulate for us what the road to recovery was like?
Duley: You know, it’s been difficult in the sense of every time you think you’re getting somewhere, another operation is needed or some other setback. I’ve had 30 operations in the last 18 months and each one of them has come with its own difficulties. When I came back to the U.K. I succumbed to some severe infections, lung infections, my kidneys stopped working. I spent 45 days in intensive care. Two times my family was called in pretty much to say their goodbyes. I was in a coma at that stage. My right hand was pretty much rebuilt, but I was never really sure I’d be able to use it fully. So the idea of even living independently was out of the question at the beginning.
Mullins: So bring us where you are today. You are now photographing the Paralympics. Who’s your client?
Duley: Yeah, I’m working for Ottobock, who are the technical partners of the Paralympics. Basically, they are a prosthetics company and they are doing all the maintenance on limbs, wheelchairs, you name it, they’re fixing it in their workshop there. So they approached me a few months ago about coming in. At that stage I was still actually in my wheelchair and wasn’t sure I’d be able to so it, but it was great because it set me a goal, set me something I was aiming to do.
Mullins: And I wonder, so you’re operating with a fully functioning right arm, is that correct?
Duley: That’s right, yeah.
Mullins: And left arm, does it exist at all?
Duley: Yeah, the left arm is actually through the elbow, so I have up until the elbow. And then I wear something, it’s something of my own invention, which just extends the arm slightly, and has a rubber end. And that enables me to still focus a camera while I use my right hand to hold the camera and take the pictures
Mullins: So you use the, you said, the rubber end to move, for instance, the aperture. And can you set the shutter speed with that?
Duley: Exactly. So I’ve managed to sort of learn and find ways to operate it. I have to say, when you first have just one hand, everything becomes a problem. Things that you never even really thought about become hard to do, and you start to learn how to do different things one-handed. But I’ve always found trying to use the camera was quite a problem. But then I was watching one of the archers at the Paralympics recently who has no arms, and he’s learned how to use one leg and what’s left of one of his arms to do archery and you think well, if somebody can do that I can learn to use a camera.
Mullins: And there’s something interesting that happened to you when you first arrived at the Paralympic Games, and you start off one of your stories, in fact, we can post this story at TheWorld.org, you start off your story telling us about it. You say, “Honestly, I think I’m in the right queue,” the right line, you say. What was going on there?
Duley: It was funny because, obviously I turned up at the Paralympic Games and went into the queue blatantly marked for media and I stood there. And they have a lot of people helping at the games that are known as the gamesmakers. And three of these gamesmakers came over to me going, sir, you’re in the wrong queue. I kept saying, no, I’m pretty sure this is the right queue. No sir, this is definitely not the right queue. One of them looked down and sort of hinted toward my prosthetic legs. So eventually I just gave up with their constant, sort of, pestering that I was in the wrong queue and decided to go with them. And they put me in the queue which was the official arrival point for athletes from around the world. So suddenly I found myself stood there with the Chinese Paralympic team with their arms around me being given a flower, walking in through the. I think the biggest question in my mind at that point was what event I should enter.
Mullins: And also, I imagine you’re thinking, boy, this gives me great access to the Olympic Village that I otherwise might not have had.
Duley: Yeah, I have to say, everywhere I’ve been, it’s kind of one of those things with security, they don’t really question what you’re there to do, it’s just everyone just assumes you’re an athlete and lets you through, so yeah, it’s been great access.
Mullins: One of the photographs you’ve taken is a self-portrait. It’s a pretty powerful image and I’m going to read a little bit of what you wrote on your website about it and maybe you can complete the thought. You wrote, “When I was still in intensive care I had an idea in my head of a photo I wanted to take, a self-portrait. I could see it so clearly. It was in my head for months. I called the idea my broken statue image.” Do you remember that thought and can you continue it for us?
Duley: Absolutely. I remember thinking of Greek statues and how some of the most beautiful statues known to man actually have parts missing. And for me it was about the inside person, the person I always was, was exactly the same. And although my body had been shattered, I was still me, and i wanted to reflect that in a photograph. I think I wanted to be very clear as well about what my injuries were for people to see them but also to see that I was exactly the same. I find myself now looking around and I now look at people maybe who have all their limbs missing wondering how they would cope. But my own situation, I’ve learned to adjust. Really, my life is in many ways more rewarding and more fulfilled than it was two years ago.
Mullins: Well, our listeners can see a number of your photographs, Giles, including that self-portrait that we mentioned, online at TheWorld.org. Giles Duley, a photographer at the Paralympics. He’s also a triple amputee. Very nice to talk to you, Giles.
Duley: Thank you.
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