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Celina South Sudan © Giles Duley / Mike McQuade

Stronger together with Giles Duley

Hastings is extraordinary not only in the number of artists that have congregated in the town over the years but also the art genres. The town has always been supportive of those who work outside the artistic community and generate ideas and initiatives. Turner Prize nominees Project Art Works and the Artist Support Pledge are two examples, and the  Stella Dore gallery is a third. HOT’s Lauris Morgan-Griffiths was delighted to come across its latest exhibition Stronger Together, a collaboration between international photographer, Giles Duley and four chosen artists. From different countries, the artists have taken his photographs and intervened in the images.

Founded by Steph Warren, Stella Dore Gallery is an independent gallery in St Leonards working directly with artists whose practice began in the street. A Hastings girl, she knew Giles as a teenager and was more than happy to accommmodate this exhibition which was first shown in Paris.

Khemisa © Giles Duley/Jeff Alan

Giles Duley is a phenomenal figure. A renowned photographer, he began his career in the fashion and music business until unhappy with the industry he gave it all up and decided to take his camera to war and become a war photographer. And what a journey that has proved to be.

He has spent the past fifteen years documenting conflict and the effects of war on civilians. In 2011 while working in Afghanistan he stepped on a mine and was severely injured. A triple amputee, it was thought he would not survive, let alone walk, take a photograph and certainly not resume his career. Through resilience and pure bloody-mindedness he did survive and a year later, in 2012, returned to Afghanistan  to continue his work as a photographer – except his emphasis had changed.

Not wanting to document war and suffering he now campaigns for the rights of both refugees and those living with disability. In 2015 he set up the Legacy of War Foundation with the aim of both supporting the reconstruction of communities after conflict and to campaign against the use of military force in foreign policy. Although I imagine Duley has always been a man interested in people and community his personal experience has no doubt increased those concerns.

Giles Duley speaking at Stronger Together exhibition at Stella Dore Gallery.

In his images Duley captures the resilience of those who have survived adversity, focusing on the intimacies of life. His photographs tell stories, draw the viewer to the subject, creating empathy for other lives. It says a lot about the man when he describes himself as “not a war photographer, I document love”. His images of people, survivors of horrendous experiences in war show individuals with strong, direct expressions not confrontational people, confident, not despair, with the feeling that they are looking towards a future.

A man evidently with compassion and empathy he says his portraits are not made but given. A good listener and story teller he talks about an 80 year old Syrian refugee from Homs, Shamah, who asked him what he was doing there. Duley explained that he was a photographer. She retorted they didn’t need photographs they needed help. For the next week he was around and about talking and interacting with the other refugees. They did not talk but occasionally he saw her watching him. After a week he set his sheet up ready to photograph people. The first one there was Shamah. And in that instance he says “Shamah gave me her portrait. I never asked to take her photograph.”

Achol ©Duley/Sibomana

In curating the exhibiton Duley had put a call out for artists to respond to his black and white images.  The resulting exhibition of Giles’ images with interventions from four artists – Sibomana, Jeff Alan, Mike McQuade, Toni Hollis and a photograph from the well known photographer Rankin is really strong. Stronger Together is intended to honour the residlience of the women whose lives he documents and make sure their stories are heard by a wider audience. Two of the artists have given the individual personalities colour. the other two retained the black and white and embellished, one with collage, the other with gold leaf.

Shamah ©Duley/Toni Hollis

Toni Hollis has taken inspiration from the Japanese tradition of Kintsugi, normally connected with repairing broken items with gold. In her way she has embraced these human flaws building upon narratives of struggle with strength. Duley is a living personification of that; his injuries, loss of limbs, are very visible as well as many concealed scars. The exhibition is about resilience and Duley demonstrates that every day – as well as the title of the exhibition Stronger Together being very apt.

Angelina Jolie said of Giles Duley’s photography: “Looking at his images, we can feel what he feels. It is clear that he connects deeply to the human condition of people from all over the world. He himself has been through an ordeal. They say that adversity helps grow compassion, and Giles’ art certainly seems to bear that out.”

Shamah may have said “we need help, not photographs”, but equally, Duley’s response could have been. “Art cannot change the world, but it can inspire those who have the power.”

Giles Duley can be seen talking about the exhibition here. And you can read previous HOT articles here and here.

Stronger Together: Resilience and Collaboration is at Stella Dore Gallery, 64 Norman Road, TN38 0EJ until 30 July, 2022. Open Thursday to Saturday 11am–5pm. 

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Posted 18:04 Friday, Jul 22, 2022 In: Arts News

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