What is it about endometriosis that makes it so misunderstood? As a disease that affects ten per cent of those with a uterus in a variety of manners, the average diagnoses often takes between seven to ten years and, once it is diagnosed, will be followed by a range of surgeries and mistreatments. As photographer Georgie Wileman puts it, these mistreatments can range from “unnecessary surgeries” as well as “induced menopause, preventable hysterectomies and ‘childbirth as a treatment’” – all of which is greatly underfunded and under-researched.
Endometriosis is a disease that the London photographer knows personally, and is something that she’s been living with herself. A portrait and documentary photographer who lenses social injustice issues and the “subsequent emotional impact”, this was a topic that she instantly had to document. Past works include Pound For The Meter, her first series which focuses on her aunt and cousins who live with learning disabilities “on the breadline” in the UK, as well as To Thy Own Self Be True, a series of portraits documenting trans lives in America. She’s also worked heavily in fashion, creating stories for publications such as Dazed & Confused and i-D, and she was also the editor for Boys by Girls. Most imperative though, is that eight years ago she found what she was truly passionate about: “telling the stories of people who are underrepresented in the media and who need their voices amplified,” she tells It’s Nice That.
This Is Endometriosis embodies all that she believes in as a photographer. By turning a critical lens on the impact of the disease – “and what it honestly meant to live with chronic pain and repeat surgeries” – the series presents a body of self-portraits and shots of her subjects undergoing the diseases physical and emotional trauma. “The work started with self-portraits for very practical reasons, as I was too sick to photograph others with the disease,” she explains of how the series first came into fruition. “It then slowly developed as my health improved, and I was able to create more diversity within the images; as a cis white woman, there is only so much I can tell through my own story and body.”
This led to the creative decision to present the women with an expression of pain, while they hold their pelvis. “Living with this disease can mean a life blurred on pain meds, being carried from wheelchair to bed, bed to wheelchair. It’s operating rooms and emergency rooms. Weeks and months on end of watching light move from sheets to floor, trapped inside four walls,” says Georgie. When sourcing her subjects, she commonly casts through her “small following” on Instagram. Otherwise, she uses posters in her local area (although travel is very limited with her health problems), before booking in a casual tea and chat to discuss “their darkest moments of pain and despair” – that which will inform the photography.
It’s an intuitive and immersive process, and one that involves Georgie getting to know her subjects on an immensely personal level. During which, she explains that the shoot will be “cathartic” – “we’ll never push them too far” – and that they will incorporate atmospheric music, plus colour matching to represent a certain subject matter. Georgie has lived with PTSD and Chronic Panic Disorder caused by repeat surgeries since her last operation in 2018, and ever since it’s been a challenge to say the least. “I needed to do this last campaign and last push for awareness with this work,” she adds, “this project is bigger than me.”
Among a powerful self-portrait that details the suffering that Georgie went through, one of the series’ most well-known is the one that depicts her scars [above], all of which have all been dated with the times that they were “opened and reopened”. She refers to it as a constellations of sorts, one that maps out the pain and suffering that she experienced through the mistreatments. “For me, this image captures the true reality of endometriosis in one image,” she says, “a life of unnecessary repeat surgeries and pain.” Continuing to explain that the government guidelines in most countries around the world for the diseases treatment is "incorrect”, this means the many go through the enduring lengths of operations that weren’t even needed – “only finding out through their own research about the correct surgery techniques (excision surgery with an endometriosis specialist).”
This Is Endometriosis is a powerful awakening to a disease that is often overlooked. Besides raising awareness around the mistreatments and how the surgeries simply aren’t available to all, the series is also about “representation”, “support and validation”, plus “education”. Georgie concludes: “The series is a brutal and honest depiction of what living with endometriosis truly means; it’s the first time this reality has been in the media. For a disease that affects one in 10 born with a uterus, as many people that suffer with diabetes, this isn’t good enough.”
GalleryGeorgie Wileman: This Is Endometriosis
About the Author
Ayla was an editorial assistant back in June 2017 and has continued to work with us on a freelance basis. She has spent the last seven years as a journalist, and covers a range of topics including photography, art and graphic design. Feel free to contact Ayla with any stories or new creative projects.