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He started photography in his teens, and at the age of 16 he left school and went on a three-month journey around Ireland. These travels resulted in his first book, 32 Counties.
In 1992, Wylie became a nominee of the Magnum Photos agency and he became a full member in 1998, one of the youngest ever members of Magnum. Since 2000, Wylie has completed various photographic and film projects exploring the religious identity, history, and the concept of territory, especially in Northern Ireland during The Troubles, post-ceasefire. His work has expanded over the years, and concentrates on the Architecture of Conflict. Notable works include The Maze prison in Northern Ireland, British Watchtowers, and the Green Zone in Baghdad. He has also worked in China, Russia, Slovakia, Spain, Israel, and Yugoslavia.
In 2010 he was a shortlisted artist for the Deutsche Börse Photography Prize. His photographic work has been included in exhibitions at venues including the Irish Museum of Modern Art in Dublin, the Victoria & Albert Museum in London, and the Centre Georges Pompidou in Paris.
Work from Wylie's Architecture of Conflict period has been widely exhibited in recent years, both in solo exhibitions and in group shows. Wylie's Outposts series was shown at the United Kingdom's National Media Museum, Bradford, in 2011, and at the Royal Ontario Museum in Toronto in 2012. In 2013, Wylie's exhibition "Vision as Power" opened at the Imperial War Museum in London. The Guardian's review stated, "Merging documentary and art photography, Wylie's images reveal both the impact of surveillance architecture on the natural landscape and the importance of surveillance in modern conflict."
Wylie is father to three sons.
- 32 Counties: Photographs of Ireland.
- The Dispossessed. UK: Picador, 1990. With Robert McLiam Wilson
- Populations in Danger. UK: J. Libbey, 1992.
- Ireland: Singular Images. London: André Deutsch, 1994. ISBN 978-0-233-98899-3.
- Notes from Moscow
- Transatlantic, 1994. ISBN 978-0-330-33032-9.
- UK: Picador, 2004.
- Losing Ground. Fourth Estate, 1998.
- The Maze.
- British Watchtowers. Göttingen: Steidl, 2007. ISBN 978-3-86521-499-7.
- Scrapbook. Göttingen: Steidl, 2009. ISBN 978-3-86521-910-7. With Timothy Prus.
- Outposts. Göttingen: Steidl, 2011. ISBN 978-3-86930-321-5.
- North Warning System. Göttingen: Steidl, 2014. ISBN 978-3869307732.
- YoYo, Channel 4/October Films (2002).
- The Train, Channel 4/October Films (2002).
- Jesus Comes To London, Channel 4/October Films (2003).
- "Outposts: Donovan Wylie".
- "Institute for Contemporary Art presents Larry Towell, Donovan Wylie, Afghanistan".
- O'Hagan, Sean. "Spies like us: Donovan Wylie captures the impact of surveillance". theguardian.com. The Guardian. Retrieved December 3, 2015.
- "The Train", IMDB. Accessed 9 December 2014.