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Wojnarowicz took his first photographs as a teenager on a camera his friend had stolen and given to him. At the time he didn't have money to develop the film. [1] From this first foray into capturing images on film, photography formed a bedrock of Wojnarowicz’s practice. Wojnarowicz wrote that upon viewing years of negatives, “I realized that the photographs were like words in a sentence and what I try to do is construct paragraphs out of multiple images.”[2]

Wojnarowicz employed photography in various ways. In addition to producing standalone photographs and series, he used photography as ground for paintings, as source material, and as collaged elements in other works. He painted over, cut, pasted, made arrangements with, and rephotographed photographs. In the dark room, he produced his own prints and created complicated montages, though he also worked with others to create prints. He used commercially available photographic work, such as a photomural used in an early exhibition at Civilian Warefare. He also kept photographic references he used as collaged images throughout his work, such as found porn. [3]

Photography also held particular political charge for Wojnarowicz. He saw it as a means for documenting the reality of lived experience that is often hidden from view, as well as a vehicle for creating alternative modes of seeing the world: “A photographic image can be a disruption of previously unchallenged power.” [4]

  1. Lucy Lippard, “Passenger on the Shadows,” in Brush Fires in a Social Landscape, 2nd ed. (New York: Aperture, 2015): 15
  2. Quoted in Lucy Lippard, “Passenger on the Shadows,” in Brush Fires in a Social Landscape, 2nd ed. (New York: Aperture, 2015): 27
  3. Wojnarowicz's porn collection, which he inherited from Peter Hujar, can be found in The David Wojnarowicz Papers; MSS 092; box number; folder number; Fales Library and Special Collections, New York University Libraries. He also lifted images from sources like children's books (such as a recurring monkey image)
  4. Quoted in Lippard, 55.