Photojournalist Luke Duggleby
"I'm committed to telling people's stories with my photography"
Interview: Nezih Tavlas / January 5, 2022
( Courtesy of Luke Duggleby)
Photojournalism News: What drew you to photojournalism?
Luke Duggleby: For me it was a natural process which developed from an insatiable appetite to learn from people and experience things that were utterly different to the culture I was brought up in. Since my early teens, I always wanted to be a photographer and I always wanted to travel to remote corners so essentially, I learnt this profession by doing it. What I saw in my early career trips to Africa and Asia in the late 1990’s/early 2000’s, captivated me so much that I wanted to know more, try to understand it and interpret what I was seeing and use a camera to do that.
Photojournalism News: What equipment do you use? Do you have a favourite lens/camera?
Luke Duggleby: I used my student loan to buy my first camera, a Canon and just stuck with them. Today, I use an R6, some backup 5D’s with a collection of L-series lenses. The 24-70mm is my workhorse lens and I own nothing that exceeds 105mm.
Photojournalism News: What social media platforms do you use?
Photojournalism News: How do you prepare yourself before any assignment? What would you put in your camera bag for a typical task?
Luke Duggleby: Assignments come in all shapes and sizes and so the preparation varies between each one. But for all, the most important initial stage is to research about the subject, the location and the issue. You can lose the opportunity to get a lot of good shots by not researching well enough and arriving unprepared. For the shoots, I’ll take what’s needed for that particular shoot, both equipment wise and personal items.
Photojournalism News: How would you best describe your style of work? What are you trying to say with your photography?
Luke Duggleby: I am a documentary and portrait photographer who focuses a lot on environmental justice and human rights topics but always from the perspective of those at risk or who are trying to mitigate the problems. My work over the past decade has focused a lot on grassroots community struggles and the work of human rights defenders particularly in Thailand. These are often very localised issues and really important to the community at risk, so I work very hard to try to engage others and garner interest from a wider audience.
Photojournalism News: How many photos do you take for one story?
Luke Duggleby: That really varies depending on how much activity or action there is but I don’t hold back and if there is a lot to shoot and can easily fire off thousands a day. Other more controlled portrait situations would be less.
Photojournalism News: What is the last trip you made?
Luke Duggleby: Because of COVID I have been confined to shooting in Thailand for the past year and a half so all my trips have been domestic ones. One of my most interesting was a commission from the Association for the Prevention of Torture in Geneva who asked me to portray their work over the past 3 years and document the people involved in their project to reduce torture in detention. For this I photographed in Bangkok and also in Pattani, one of the 3 provinces in the deep south of Thailand, that has been involved in this decade old conflict between the state and Muslim separatists. So, it was fascinating to meet the people involved in this project and be inspired by their dedication to such a sensitive subject.
Photojournalism News: What projects will you be working on next?
Luke Duggleby: My work, or at least my personal work will continue to document grassroots community groups and human rights defenders in Thailand. This is a subject that I focus a lot of my time to so as long as there are people advocating for their rights, I am committed to telling their stories with my photography.
Photojournalism News: Which of your photographs would you describe as your favourite? What makes them so special to you?
Luke Duggleby: I’m not even going to try to answer this one, for me it changes daily depending on my frame of mind or current focus. There are certain images that have affected my career more than others by being widely published or receiving recognition in awards but these aren’t necessarily my favourite pictures.
Photojournalism News: What message do you want your photos to convey?
Luke Duggleby: I guess the ultimate aim of my work, specifically my personal work, is for people to learn about how other people live their lives and learn from their experience. To accurately and fairly portray the lives of others so that the viewer can learn from them.
(All images © Courtesy of Luke Duggleby)
Photojournalism News: What does a photo need to be a great in your eyes?
Luke Duggleby: A great photo is a balance and combination of all the elements – light, composition, emotion, feeling, meaning etc… A great photo encapsulates all these different parts and holds your gaze. This will be different for each viewer but that’s the magic of photography, the possibilities of this combination are endless.
Photojournalism News: In the digital age people consume billions of photos every single day, under the circumstances what could make a photo memorable?
Luke Duggleby: A memorable photo makes you ask questions. It stops you and ignites something inside that keeps you looking and ultimately feel. This could be influenced by the situation of the day or simply be an incredible image. Why and how certain photographs do this is the subject of books but it will be different for everyone.
Photojournalism News: What motivates you to continue taking pictures and what do you do to keep motivated?
Luke Duggleby: For me the answer is very personal, being a photographer is the only thing I have ever wanted to do. To be one is a life commitment to the craft. When I am shooting, I am at my happiest and when I am not shooting, I am thinking about shooting. Almost 20 years now since I started as a fulltime photographer and I have never had a single day that I doubted doing this job.
Photojournalism News: What was the biggest professional risk you have taken and what was the outcome?
Luke Duggleby: I guess the biggest risk I took turned out to be my best one. Fresh out of photography school and living in London, sleeping on my brother’s sofa, I felt very demoralised attempting to connect with editors and get work. Then I realised that whilst it didn’t work being in London, if I permanently left the UK and based myself in the region I wanted to focus on, it could only benefit my career. So, I left with a camera and backpack and never came back. For 20 years now I have been living in Asia and this availability, close proximity to the stories and years of experience in the region has only helped my career.
Photojournalism News: What would be your dream assignment?
Luke Duggleby: Something wild, something remote. Something that allowed me time in a place far away from cities, and the internet, in a remote corner of the world with a fascinating people. I’d be happy with that.
Photojournalism News: What are the essential skills/ qualities a photojournalist should have?
Luke Duggleby: Being a photojournalist in its essence is about understanding people. There are many other qualities that you need but many of the most important ones are to do with you personally. Be nice, have manners and be polite, be able to adapt to the environment around you, be curious without being pushy or intrusive, smile, have patience and empathy etc... once you have these then you can start working on your photography.
Photojournalism News: What do you think about the digital manipulation of images?
Luke Duggleby: Referring specifically to photojournalistic images, manipulation should only include the most basic of actions. I started on film, spent years in dark rooms and lugging rolls of Provia around in a backpack. To retouch an image should be within the constraints of what’s possible in a darkroom, increasing contrast, cropping, shading, lightening etc… But today many photographers overwork images and even physically alter them. This is unacceptable. I understand that the younger generations have probably never been in a darkroom and have grown up with Photoshop and IG but photojournalists need to understand the ramifications of altering an image.
Photojournalism News: What does it mean to be an ethical photojournalist?
Luke Duggleby: To misrepresent a person or the situation can have huge implications to the subject themselves and the issue in general. It’s vital to be culturally and situationally aware and honest in the way photograph something in front of you.
Photojournalism News: How do you see the role of photojournalism evolving in the world? Do you think photojournalism is losing its importance?
Luke Duggleby: I don’t think photojournalism is losing its importance at all. I think the hunger for it is greater than ever and the number of platforms showing it are ever increasing. The world still wants to devour photojournalism and it can now be provided by an increasingly diverse selection of photojournalists in every corner of the world. But the most important question is how do photojournalists continue to sustain themselves in what often feels like an ever increasingly hostile industry towards the very people who create the work in the first place?
Photojournalism News: Do you have any advice for aspiring photojournalists?
Luke Duggleby: Find your voice. Choose a subject that is close to your heart, that you are passionate and obsessed about. Then work it and work it until you have an incredible body of work. It is such a body of work that can be the springboard to a successful career and many photojournalists have had their reputations made on single bodies of work that has caught the attention of commissioning editors. Become an expert and a voice to that subject and then other subjects will come to you.
Luke Duggleby is an award-winning British freelance documentary and portrait photographer who has been based in Bangkok, Thailand, for over 15 years. Working for a range of global media and NGO’s he also allocates a significant amount of time to personal work which focuses predominantly on issues related to human rights defenders and environmental justice particularly at a grassroots community level.
Luke has published two books (Salt of the Earth and The Invisible Side of Paradise) He is the founder of The Sidi Project which looks to illustrate and highlight the lives of the African diasporic communities living in South Asia and the peripheries of the Indian Ocean. He is also a founding member of a recently launched web platform called HaRDstories which focuses on the lives and struggles of human rights defenders and community groups in Thailand and beyond. Luke is an assignment roster photographer for Redux Pictures in New York and lives in Bangkok with his family all year round.