Debi Cornwall is a conceptual documentary artist who returned to visual expression in 2014 after a 12-year career as a civil-rights lawyer. Marrying dark humor with structural critique, she employs photographs along with testimony, sound, video, and archival material to examine American power and identity in the post-9/11 era.
Smoke Break, Camp America (2014)
While completing a degree in Modern Culture and Media at Brown University, Debi studied photography at the Rhode Island School of Design (RISD). After working for photographers Mary Ellen Mark and Sylvia Plachy, as an AP stringer, and as an investigator for the federal public defender’s office, she attended Harvard Law School and practiced for more than a decade as an attorney representing wrongly convicted DNA exonerees. Exhaustive research and negotiation were critical to her advocacy and remain integral to her work as an artist.
Recent honors include a 2019 NYSCA/NYFA Artist Fellowship in Photography and Leica Women Foto Project Award; a Harpo Foundation Visual Artist Grant, a Center for Emerging Visual Artists Fellowship, and a Duke University Archive of Documentary Arts Collection Award for Women Documentarians; shortlists for the 2019 W. Eugene Smith Memorial Fund Grant and 2019 Tim Hetherington Trust Visionary Award; and a Baum Award for an Emerging American Photographer nomination.
Prayer Rug with Arrow to Mecca, Camp Echo (2015)
Debi’s project, Welcome to Camp America: Inside Guantánamo Bay, is internationally acclaimed. As an installation, the project won juried exhibition prizes, the Lianzhou (China) Foto Festival Punctum Award and Fotofest Charles Jing Fellowship. The photo book (Radius, 2017), was named among the years top ten in the New York Times Magazine, among others. It was also a PDN Annual Publisher’s Choice Award winner; shortlisted for the Paris Photo-Aperture First PhotoBook Prize, les Rencontres de la Photographie d’Arles Photo-Text Book Award, and the Alice Award; longlisted for the Kraszna-Krausz Foundation Book Award; named as a Lucie First Photo Book Prize finalist; and nominated for an ICP Infinity Award.
Necessary Fictions (Radius Books, 2020)
Welcome to Camp America: Inside Guantánamo Bay (Radius Books, 2017)
Selected Print Collections:
Harvard Art Museums
Museum of Fine Art Houston
Duke University Archive of Documentary Arts, David M. Rubenstein Rare Book & Manuscript Library
Yossi Milo Collection
Welcome to Camp America:
Musée de la Photographie Charleroi (Belgium) (January 23 to May 16, 2021) (POSTPONED)
Stadthaus Ulm (Germany), curated by Daniela Baumann (October 9, 2020 to January 17, 2021) (POSTPONED)
les Rencontres de la Photographie en Gaspésie (Canada)
Cortona on the Move Festival (Italy)
Philadelphia Photo Arts Center (PA)
Head On Photo Festival (Sydney, Australia)
Steven Kasher Gallery (New York, NY)
Carriage House Gallery, Brown University (Providence, RI)
BMW Photo Space of GoEun Museum of Photography (Busan, S. Korea)
Centre de la Photographie Genève (Switzerland)
Lianzhou International Foto Festival (China) (catalogue)