Giles Duley biography

Giles Duley

Giles Duley is an award-winning photographer of conflicts across the world.

After working as a successful fashion and music photographer for ten years, he decided to abandon photography and began work as a full-time carer. It was in this role that he rediscovered his craft and its power to tell the stories of those without a voice. In 2000, he returned to photography, personally funding trips to document the work of NGOs and the stories of those affected by conflict.

In 2011, Duley lost both legs and his left arm after stepping on an improvised explosive device (IED) in Afghanistan. He was told he would never walk again and that his career was over. However, he returned to work less than 18 months later. He has since documented stories in Lebanon and Jordan, and his return to Afghanistan in October 2012 to complete his original assignment was the feature of the award-winning documentary “Walking Wounded: Return to the Frontline”.

Duley’s work has since been featured in numerous papers and magazines, and he has talked about his experiences on television, radio and at several international and national events. He is a Trustee for the Italian NGO Emergency and an ambassador for Sir Bobby Charlton’s landmine charity Find A Better Way. In 2013, he won the May Chidiac Award for Bravery in Journalism.

Refugee stories will come alive at TEDxExeter

Press release

The reality of life for refugees fleeing the conflict in Syria will come vividly to life when award-winning photographer Giles Duley shows his pictures and tells the stories behind them at this year’s TEDxExeter.

Duley, who lost three limbs and nearly his life in 2011 when working in Afghanistan, is an Honorary Fellow of the Royal Photographic Society. He started out as a fashion and music photographer photographing such nineties icons as Oasis, The Prodigy and Pulp.  Disillusioned with celebrity culture, he discovered that he could use his craft to tell the stories of those without a voice, and that it was powerful and effective. 

He has worked with NGOs such as Médecins Sans Frontières, Emergency and UNHCR, documenting their work and telling the stories of those affected by conflict across the world. He was on foot patrol with US soldiers near Kandahar in February 2011 when he stepped on a pressure plate buried in the road, triggering an improvised explosive device. He lost both legs and an arm in the explosion. He spent 45 days in intensive care and on two occasions his family were told to say their goodbyes. Despite the odds, he has not just survived, but thrived and flourished.  He told his doctors “I am still a photographer”. His attitude was that the loss of three limbs “is going to give me greater insight and empathy into people’s suffering and hopefully put me in a better position to tell their stories. Because that’s all I am, a storyteller.”

Recently Duley has been documenting the refugee crisis caused by the ongoing conflict in Syria, documenting the lives of refugees in the Middle East and in Europe as part of a long-term project for the UN High Commissioner for Refugees. He will tell some of their stories in his TEDxExeter talk. Writing in the Guardian he says that not since the Second World War have so many people been on the move: “I have never been so overwhelmed as by the human drama on the beaches of Lesbos. In its sheer scale, it is hard to comprehend; the lack of response impossible to explain or excuse”.

“We are delighted that Giles will be speaking at TEDxExeter,” says curator and licensee Claire Kennedy. “He is a world renowned humanitarian photographer who focuses his lens on individuals and families fleeing conflict, helping us connect to them through their stories. His 2012 talk at TEDxObserver, When a reporter becomes the story, was voted one of the top 10 TED talks of 2012, and we’re confident that his talk at TEDxExeter, so vital now, will also be a winner.”

TEDxExeter will be held at the Northcott Theatre on April 15th with a livestream to the nearby Alumni Auditorium. Tickets for both sold out in December. However, there will also be public livestream events at RAMM (the Royal Albert Memorial Museum) and Exeter Central Library. It is also possible to watch the livestream (click the link on on the day) or to hold your own private viewing party (find out how at

For more information please contact Cathy Debenham,, 07786 440129. A photograph of Giles Duley is attached.

Photographs of previous TEDxExeter events are available to download from the TEDxExeter Flickr page. Click on individual pictures to see captions and picture credits.

Notes to editors

TEDxExeter is organised by a team of local volunteers. It is made possible by the generosity of the following local companies who support the event.

University of Exeter
Stephens Scown
Egremont Group
SunGift Energy
Wilkinson Grant
Websites Ahoy
Dacors Design
First Sight Media
Luscombe Drinks
Exeter College
Exeter Northcott Theatre
Exeter City Council
Matt Round Photography

All TEDxExeter talks are filmed and made freely available on the internet. The TED translation project means ideas from Exeter reach a truly global audience. So far TEDxExeter speakers’ talks have been viewed more than 5.25 million times. Four of them have been featured on Karima Bennoune sharing stories of real people fighting against fundamentalism in their own communities; Scilla Elworthy speaking on non violence; Bandi Mbubi calling for fair trade phones; and slam poet Harry Baker‘s love poem for lonely prime numbers… Michelle Ryan’s talk on work-life balance tops a TEDx YouTube list on the way we work.

About TEDx x = independently organized event

In the spirit of ideas worth spreading, TEDx is a program of local, self-organized events that bring people together to share a TED-like experience. At a TEDx event, TED Talks video and live speakers combine to spark deep discussion and connection. These local, self-organized events are branded TEDx, where x = independently organized TED event. The TED Conference provides general guidance for the TEDx program, but individual TEDx events are self-organized. (Subject to certain rules and regulations.)

Follow TEDxExeter on Twitter at For more information and to watch our talks visit our website: where you can also sign up to receive our newsletter.

About TED

TED is a nonprofit organization devoted to Ideas Worth Spreading, usually in the form of short, powerful talks (18 minutes or fewer) delivered by today’s leading thinkers and doers. Many of these talks are given at TED’s annual conference in Vancouver, British Columbia, and made available, free, on TED speakers have included Bill Gates, Jane Goodall, Elizabeth Gilbert, Sir Richard Branson, Nandan Nilekani, Philippe Starck, Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala, Sal Khan and Daniel Kahneman.

TED’s open and free initiatives for spreading ideas include, where new TED Talk videos are posted daily; the Open Translation Project, which provides subtitles and interactive transcripts as well as translations from thousands of volunteers worldwide; the educational initiative TED-Ed; the annual million-dollar TED Prize, which funds exceptional individuals with a “wish,” or idea, to create change in the world; TEDx, which provides licenses to thousands of individuals and groups who host local, self-organized TED-style events around the world; and the TED Fellows program, which selects innovators from around the globe to amplify the impact of their remarkable projects and activities.

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“Memories, Dreams, Reflections”

It’s not an autobiography, even though the first chapters are entitled “First Years”, “School Years”, and so on. It’s not really a description of his developing thought, either; “Memories, Dreams, Reflections” (1961) is more a glimpse of the inner working of Carl Jung’s mind. As he wrote in the Prologue:

“My life is a story of the self-realisation of the unconscious… In the end the only events in my life worth telling are those when the imperishable world irrupted into this transitory one. That is why I speak chiefly of inner experiences, amongst which I include my dreams and visions. These form the prima materia of my scientific work. They were the fiery magma out of which the stone that had to be worked was crystallized.”

Humans have interpreted their dreams since time immemorial. In the early twentieth century, Sigmund Freud and Jung were the pioneers in psychology theories about the meaning and purpose of dreams.

No more violinsFor Freud, dreams were motivated by wish-fulfillment. Even anxiety dreams and nightmares were triggered by the ego’s awareness of repressed wishes. Maybe the author of this homework was a repressed viola player who couldn’t help the spelling mistake! Dreams often arose out of the previous day’s events, and the dreamer had a natural tendency to make sense, or a story, out of the recollected content.

Jung didn’t entirely reject Freud’s theories, but thought them limited. He thought the scope of dream interpretation larger than the obvious associations with recent events or known people. For Jung, dreams were a window on the unconscious, enabling the dreamer to communicate with and come to know the unconscious, and tap into it as a source of creativity. Jung also postulated the ‘collective unconscious’, the structures of the unconscious mind which we share.

Interpretation of dreams could then guide the waking self to achieve wholeness, and perhaps offer a solution to a problem being faced by the dreamer in their waking life. Another sense of dreams into reality, enhancing reality.

So alongside the objective approach to interpretation, eg mother in dream represents mother in waking life, Jung proposed a subjective approach, ie the mother in the dream could symbolise an aspect of the dreamer, who (depending on the dream content) might need to care better for themselves. Other characters in the dream might be from the collective unconscious: fairy story style archetypes such as an old woman offering wisdom. Then there might be inanimate objects with symbolic meaning. Cars appear often in modern times. If the dreamer is at the wheel of the car driving safely, they might be in control of their life. If they are in the passenger seat, and someone else is at the wheel, then maybe some changes need to be made in waking life! But all interpretation varies according to the personal situation of the dreamer, who needs to learn the language of their dreams.

In 1912, Jung and Freud had a parting of the ways. Then during 1913-17, Jung spent several years confronting his unconscious. It makes for a fascinating chapter in “Memories, Dreams, Reflections”, freighted with symbol. At the end, he describes a final dream he had set in Liverpool, the ‘pool of life’, and how the whole period provided him with the material for a lifetime’s work:

The dream depicted the climax of the whole process of development of consciousness. It satisfied me completely, for it gave a total picture of my situation… Without such a vision I might perhaps have lost my orientation and been compelled to abandon my undertaking. But here the meaning had been made clear. When I parted from Freud, I knew that I was plunging into the unknown. Beyond Freud, after all, I knew nothing; but I had taken the step into darkness. When that happens, and then such a dream comes, one feels it as an act of grace. It has taken me virtually forty-five years to distill within the vessel of my scientific work the things I experienced and wrote down at that time… The years when I was pursuing my inner images were the most important in my life — in them everything essential was decided. It all began then; the later details are only supplements and clarifications of the material that burst forth from the unconscious, and at first swamped me.

I’m firmly in the Jung camp. There have been times when I have tried to remember and interpret my dreams. It really is true that writing them down makes remembering easier. I suppose there are times when it is immensely helpful to pay attention, and times when their wisdom is less immediately needed. But there are still occasions when a particularly memorable dream irrupts into my consciousness, and brings some enlightenment.

Dream more boldly

Last night, I was very happy to have the opportunity to watch the opening session of TED2016 at Exeter Picturehouse, in the company of some of the lovely TEDxExeter team. One of the talks I most enjoyed was given by Dan Pallotta, and given that TED nicked their theme “DREAM.” from us,* their write-up fits nicely in my series about “Dreams to Reality”:

It’s time to dream more boldly. When activist Dan Pallotta thinks about dreams, he thinks about being 8 years old and watching Neil Armstrong step onto the surface of the moon. And he thinks about the drag queens of LA and Stonewall, who risked everything to come out when it was dangerous. “We need more of the courage of drag queens and astronauts,” Pallotta says. But there was something about Apollo that Pallotta didn’t know as a child. Those iconic images of astronauts bouncing on the moon obscured the failed marriages, alcoholism and depression they left behind on earth. And after witnessing hurtful, destructive infighting in the LGBT community, in the fight against AIDs and breast cancer, and in nonprofit activism, Pallotta has found that our dreams can become fixations — that destroy our ability to be present for our lives right now. Now, he dreams of an epoch in which we are as excited, curious and scientific about the development of our humanity as we are the development of our technology. “I think what we fear most is that we will be denied the opportunity to fulfill our true potential,” Pallotta says. “Imagine living in a world where we simply recognize that deep, existential fear in one another — and love one another boldly because we know that to be human is to live with that fear. It’s time for us to dream in multiple dimensions, simultaneously.”

* Not really. Just a case of great minds thinking alike 😉

Dream succeeds dream

When I watched the film “Suffragette” in the cinema, I took note of the lingering shot of a book called “Dreams”. I think the title page had been signed by many Suffragettes. (As I don’t have a photographic memory, I might have dreamed it.) And I imagine them passing it round the group to read, each pressing it into the next woman’s hands while saying: “You must read this. It will encourage you greatly.”

I had to do a bit of digging to find that the book was written by Olive Schreiner in 1890. (This book came up at the same time.) In another of her books, “The Story of an African Farm”, Schreiner wrote:

“So age succeeds age, and dream succeeds dream, and of the joy of the dreamer no man knoweth but he who dreameth. Our fathers had their dreams; we have ours; the generation that follows will have its own. Without dreams and phantoms man cannot exist.”

Pardon the exclusive language!

The Suffragettes and Suffragists had their dream of gaining the vote, which became reality for most women over the age of 30 in 1918, and for all women over 21 on the same terms as men in 1928.

Now in the UK, the dream of suffrage has been succeeded by the dream of full equality for women: equal opportunities, equal pay, equal visibility, equal voice, equal respect, equal safety and security.

To that we must add the dream of full equality and justice for all, irrespective of gender, race, religion, sexuality, and all other labels and categorisations.

TED 16: DREAM Opening Night

TED2016_Picturehouse_TEDxExeter_smallExeter Picturehouse will be screening the opening session of the annual TED conference on 16 February, and TEDxExeter are delighted to be partnering with them.

Hosted by TED curator Chris Anderson, the roughly two-hour theatrical screening of this event will present the first evening of TED 2016: Dream (held in Vancouver, Canada, on 15–22 February). World-renowned thinkers, artists and storytellers share their ‘ideas worth spreading’ about the greatest dreams we are capable of dreaming. What emerges is a spirit of wonder and optimism that represents the world at its best.

We will be hosting a stand at the Picturehouse, and our Organiser Claire Kennedy will say a few words about TEDxExeter before the screening starts. Afterwards, from about 9pm, a number of team members will be available in the bar to share more about TEDxExeter. Do come and say hello, even if you can’t make it to the screening.

More articles in the press

Doing a bit of a catch-up of articles in the local press about TEDxExeter 2016 …

… and alumni Michelle Ryan and Andy Robertson

First a dream

In Washington Monument by Night (1922), Carl Sandburg wrote of the dream of the Founding Fathers of the United States:

The republic is a dream.
Nothing happens unless first a dream.

I never thought I’d ever quote Ronald Reagan in a post for TEDxExeter, but he quoted Sandburg before a joint session of Congress on 28 April 1981, and then he added: “all we need to begin with is a dream that we can do better than before. All we need to have is faith, and that dream will come true. All we need to do is act, and the time for action is now.”

Reagan uses the rule of three in his rhetoric to good effect: we need a dream; we need faith in our dream; and we need to act on our faith. Of course, the implication is that the dream should be to do better. And the need for dreams will never end; we will always need to dream new realities, to be willing to act, to change things for the better.

That applies to things out there, and it applies again and again and again. As President Obama said in his speech after the Charleston church shootings: “Their death says to us that we must work passionately and unrelentingly for the realization of the American Dream.”

But usually it has to start with ourselves. To quote Gandhi again: “Be the change you wish to see in the world.” So we too, each of us, need a personal dream. As the author Malcolm Forbes put it: “Living and dreaming are two different things – but you can’t do one without the other.”

Everyone will have a different personal dream, some to work for justice yes, others to see their nearest and dearest blossom, still others to truly become themselves. What is your dream?

Nothing happens unless first a dream.

Living the dream

Once again, I’m planning to write a series of blog posts around this year’s theme of “Dreams to Reality”. Writing ‘around the theme’ will mean that I touch on different aspects of dreams and reality.

I’m not sure that I’d want to live my sleeping dreams, of delving deeper and deeper into caves to the point of claustrophobia, or retaking my A’Levels or degree but neglecting to go to lectures or study (shudder). Being able to fly at the merest thought and hover with the omniscient view from above is more appealing, but unlikely to be realised during my lifetime.

Nevertheless, I’ll probably still touch on our sleeping dreams later in the series. I’m just fascinated by the different aspects of dreaming. Once upon a time, the Old English dream meant “joy, mirth, noisy merriment” or “music”. There may be two separate words that happened to be spelled the same, or the meaning of the word has changed dramatically. Dream in the sense of “sequence of sensations passing through a sleeping person’s mind” dates from the mid-13c. In the sense of “ideal or aspiration”, it dates only from 1931. 

Yeats in his poem “Aedh Wishes for the Cloths of Heaven”, which was published in 1899, would have been using dream in the sense of a sleeping vision. I am appropriating it in the sense of offering these writings in the hope that they spark something in my readers, while being aware how fragile and unformed they might be. And maybe it also applies to our speakers, offering their ideas in the hope that they touch their listeners.

Had I the heaven’s embroidered cloths,
Enwrought with golden and silver light,
The blue and the dim and the dark cloths
Of night and light and the half-light;
I would spread the cloths under your feet:
But I, being poor, have only my dreams;
I have spread my dreams under your feet;
Tread softly because you tread on my dreams.