Review – Gillian Wearing

In preparation for exercise 3.5 Photographs from text we are asked to take a look at “Signs that say what you want them to say and not signs that say what someone else wants you too say”.

Gillian Wearing (OBE) (1963)

'I have been certified as mildly insane!' 1992-3 by Gillian Wearing OBE born 1963Fig. 1. I have been certified as mildly insane… (1993-3)

'I signed on and they would not give me nothing' 1992-3 by Gillian Wearing OBE born 1963Fig. 2. I signed on and they would not give me nothing (1992-3)

Wearing, G; 1992-3; Work towards peace [Fig. 3. Work towards peace (1992-3)

For this series Gillian worked with members of the public, requesting the opportunity to photograph them, and asked if they would write something pertinent to them on a large piece of paper. It’s a very clever concept, but also very simple. Its a collaborative process that allowed her to produce an image with the people that she photographed, rather than taking photos of them. She photographed people from varying walks of life, gender, race, sexuality, and the result is a series of photos where all are equal. They are equal because they have all been allowed to speak for themselves.

It reinforces to me what I have just read in The Civil Contract of Photography, in which Azoulay states “Anyone who addresses others through photographs or takes the position of a photographers addressee, even if she is a stateless person who has lost her “right to have rights… is nevertheless a citizen – a member in the citizenry of photography” (Azoulay, A; 2008; pp85). She goes on to discuss that the viewer is also a citizen of photography and that we are all involved and participate in the photo and its understanding of it, especially so in documentary/reportage/disaster/conflict photography.

Wearing’s approach is a very interesting one and it makes me think about how often this occurs, especially in comparison with mainstream documentary or reportage photography. Generally a photographer, who is working for a media outlet or other interested party, will have a brief and a duty to take photos according to the taste/politics/demands of the editor or organisation. How often do photographed people have the opportunity to consent to having their photograph taken, let alone to be a co-author?

The approach makes me consider my own photography in relation to the genres of street and events. I have worked with direct consent where I have explained my studies to people and gained their permission to make their portrait, at events I have worked on assumed consent, in which people are fully aware that photographers are around, and if they try to hide their face then I do not photograph them, and I have also taken some street photography without consent. This is not to say that any style is better, or correct, they all have their value, but I do like Wearing’s style, which is an approach that I have made use of for a project with homeless people (although I asked them what they would like to say to accompany their photo, rather than providing them with the means to write their own words) (Keys, R; 2018).

This is not an approach that I will be using for exercise 3.5 but certainly one that I would like to build upon in the future, and my tutor and I have discussed this previously.



Figure 1; Wearing, G; 1992-3; I have been certified as mildly insane… [chromogenic print on paper]; AT: (accessed on 12/05/2018)

Figure 2; Wearing, G; 1992-3; I signed on and they would not give me nothing [chromogenic print on paper];

Figure 3; Wearing, G; 1992-3; Work towards peace [chromogenic print on paper]; AT:


Azoulay, A; 2008; The Civil Contract of Photography; New York; Zone Books; pp85

Keys, R; 2018; Homelessness – People are only invisible if we choose to ignore them; Online AT: (accessed on 12/05/2018)

2 Replies to “Review – Gillian Wearing”

  1. I personally struggle with street photography these days and generally only take my camera to organised events where people generally are happy to be ‘snapped’ . I like Gillian Wearing’s concept , I think it would be an interesting one to emulate.

    Liked by 1 person

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