I am a conceptual documentary artist and filmmaker who returned to visual expression in 2014 after a 12-year career as a civil-rights lawyer. Marrying dark humor with structural critique, I employ still and moving images along with testimony and archival materials to examine state-created realities.
While completing a degree in Modern Culture and Media at Brown University, I studied photography at 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, I attended Harvard Law School and practiced for more than a decade as a civil-rights attorney. Exhaustive research and negotiation were critical to my advocacy and remain integral to my work as an artist.
Necessary Fictions (Radius Books), my recent book on the staging and performance of American power in immersive, realistic military wargames, was nominated for the Deutsche Börse Photography Foundation Prize and shortlisted for the Rencontres de la Photographie d'Arles Photo-Text Book Award.
Honors also include a 2021 Speranza Foundation Lincoln City Fellowship, 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; the Lianzhou (China) Foto Festival Punctum Award and Fotofest Charles Jing Fellowship (both juried exhibition prizes); shortlists for the 2019 W. Eugene Smith Memorial Fund Grant and the 2019 and 2020 Tim Hetherington Trust Visionary Award; and a Baum Award for an Emerging American Photographer nomination.
My first book, Welcome to Camp America: Inside Guantánamo Bay (Radius, 2017), was named among 2017's 10 best photo books by Teju Cole in the New York Times Magazine, among others. It was also a 2018 PDN Annual Publisher's Choice Award winner, shortlisted for a 2018 Alice Award, longlisted for the 2018 Kraszna-Krausz Foundation Book Award, a 2018 Lucie First Photo Book Prize finalist, 2018 ICP Infinity Award nominee, and shortlisted for the 2017 Paris Photo-Aperture First PhotoBook Prize and les Rencontres de la Photographie d'Arles Photo-Text Book Award.
I have lectured or exhibited in Belgium, Switzerland, France, China, South Korea, Germany, Australia, Italy, Canada, Lebanon, Guatemala, at UN Headquarters, the Steven Kasher Gallery, and in university, community, & contemporary-art spaces across the U.S. I'm an ICP adjunct faculty member, a Screen Arts School mentor, and now serving on the Board of Directors of Women Photograph.
Subscribe to my mailing list here. If you would like to exhibit or acquire my work or invite me to speak, teach, mentor, or collaborate, please email me at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow me @debicornwall on Instagram and Twitter.