Selected News & Reviews
"The stringency of these protocols makes civil rights attorney-cum-photographer Debi Cornwall’s contribution to the GTMO genre that much more remarkable. . . . Her 2017 book Welcome to Camp America: Inside Guantánamo Bay combines photographs of the base with declassified archival material and first-person narrative text to make palpable and knowable so much of what Joint Task Force Guantánamo Bay and the American executive would keep us from seeing. The book contains the full freakishness of the American truth Jessup proclaimed on screen some two and a half decades prior. . . The viewer need not know what happened here to know what happened here."
— "The Genre Guantánamo Made," by Miriam Pensack.
". . . Pourtant, très vite, on comprend l'intelligence et l'incroyable force de ce projet. . . C'est dire si elle connait l'importance des détails, du non-dit et, en l'occurence, du non-montré. . . un dossier d'accusation aussi complet qu'impitoyable. . . Car la photographe utilise aussi l'humour comme arme non l'étale mais bougrement efficace. . . La troisième serie, 'Beyond Gitmo,' vient alors clôturer le parcours de manière magistrale. "
— Exhibition review of Welcome to Camp America at the Musée de la Photographie à Charleroi, in MAD (culture supplement to Belgian daily, le Soir).
"Cornwall’s creative freedom was very limited in the camp – but despite these rules & strict controls, she shows a staggering image of 'Gitmo' in seemingly neutral, objective images. . . Camp America is an exhibition that makes us think about the scope of law, about freedom, about the role of the government. An exhibition about human rights that are curtailed in the name of reasons of State. Cornwall is kicking our conscience with Guantanamo as an example. . . ."
— John Devos reviews Welcome to Camp America at the Musée de la Photographie à Charleroi, for l'Oeil de la Photographie.
"Krieg und Fiktion," Interview with Tom Seymour about Necessary Fictions in the March 2021 print issue of Fotomagazin.
Musée de la Photographie à Charleroi Director Xavier Canonne is interviewed on RTBF (Belgian radio), about the current
Welcome to Camp America: Inside Guantánamo Bay exhibition (at 22:32, en français).
La Libre newspaper reviews Welcome to Camp America: Inside Guantánamo Bay exhibition at the Musée de la Photographe à Charleroi, Belgium.
"What Cornwall brings to the table is an extremely systematic and methodical artistic mindset . . . with persistence and refined logic. . . The photobook itself rewards 'reading', as the front to back progression flows with an internal logic that builds from one subject to the next. . . Cornwall’s photobook walks a delicate line, documenting a set of realities (which are themselves fictions) but also forcing us to see the absurdities embedded in them. Cornwall offers us a parade of seemingly deadpan images and texts, which then pull us down a rabbit hole of nested complications, complexities, and contradictions that feel much more intertwined than we ever realized. . . [T]he conclusions we must draw from what she systematically presents become all the more puzzling and ominous the more we consider them.
— Loring Knaubloch reviews Necessary Fictions in Collector Daily.
In conversation with Brad Feuerhelm for his Nearest Truth podcast.
Necessary Fictions "is a follow-up of sorts to Cornwall’s exceptional examination of the prison at Guantánamo Bay. . . It’s a theater of the absurd. . . It all makes sense when looked at through the lens of war. Though if you step back just a bit with a critical eye, . . . this is where Cornwall’s work really shines. . . It’s a smart book. The photos are great, but all in all, as a book, it’s exceptional."
— "At Least One Thing Was Great About 2020: These Photobooks," Mother Jones.
Elizabeth Avedon names Necessary Fictions among the Best Photography Books of 2020.
Laura Roumanos selects Necessary Fictions for Photo Vogue's Best Photobooks of 2020.
"Debi is a former human rights lawyer, so one would expect this to be an extremely learned and well-researched body of work, and it certainly is that. But she is far, far more than a lawyer with a camera; these are finely crafted, intelligent photographs that collectively form the darkest of dark comedies."
— Mark Power's Top 10 Photobooks of 2020, Photobookstore (UK)
"Necessary Fictions is a continuation of conceptual documentary artist Debi Cornwall's dark-humored approach shown in her award-winning exploration of Guantánamo Bay in Welcome to Camp America. . . Twenty years after 9/11 and the start of the War on Terror, Necessary Fictions takes a good look at how far we've come in filling the needs of the military-industrial complex as efficiently as possible."
— Donny Bajohr & Jeff Campagna, "The Ten Best Photography Books of 2020," Smithsonian Magazine.
Debi Cornwall. . . is a committed artist with searing intelligence and a sharp eye willing to take on some of the thorny issues of our time. . . . The design, page layout, striking cover, and balance of photographs to text is elegantly presented. There are compelling surprises amongst the pages, add-ins and different paper sizes and a print in an envelope at the end of the book. A real treasure.
—Matthew Flowers, Managing Director, Flowers Gallery
I think Necessary Fictions is one of the finest produced books I have ever seen. The sequencing is unexpected as the story unfolds from page to page, with surprises throughout. Personally, it is the first photobook I have ever read cover to cover in one sitting. Beyond fantastic!
—Catherine Edelman, Founder, Catherine Edelman Gallery
Debi Cornwall may have perfected the next generation of visual storytelling with her novel-length photobook, Necessary Fictions. Mostly visual, with masterly restraint in the images and their presentations (simple, pared down, nothing extraneous or distracting) accompanied with haiku-like observations, quotes, snippets of conversation, ad copy, factual lists and inventories, government purchase orders… It’s about war games and simulations with extreme psychological fidelity. It’s a true story and a stunner.
—Jim Casper, Editor, LensCulture
—"Favorite Photobooks of 2020," Lensculture.
Debi Cornwall’s bright, bleak and spare imagery wrestles with an inherent paradox: the artifice and necessity of war games. With a rare perspective, at once entranced and dispassionate, Cornwall examines staged desert landscapes, enemy role players and soldiers-in-training with discerning detail and a visual sensibility for composition and palette that is splendidly sophisticated. This deeply researched and thoughtfully designed volume succeeds in provoking bigger questions regarding the necessity of conflict.
—"Our Favorite Photobooks of 2020," What Will You Remember.
"To be frank, paging through Cornwall’s book, taking in the imagery interspersed with quotes and excerpts from government contracts, can make you feel a little more than uneasy, even angry. So much of what is presented hits very close to home, including the concept of those in power seeking to create their own reality. The book itself, a hefty 324 pages containing 104 images, is beautiful. . . The very artfulness of the photos seem to belie the deadly seriousness of the book. . . Cornwall’s book reveals the twisted ways that power attempts to construct reality regardless of the very real pain and suffering it lays on the people tasked with upholding it."
—Kenneth Dickerman, The Washington Post.
"There is the pull and push of how the artistic sensibility plays with its documentary status. . . Debi finds her own position and invokes it with care, collaboration and critical depth."
—Sunil Shah, American Suburb X.
"In all, it’s a surreal exercise befitting an examination of the surreal world of warfare. . . Cornwall presents a distilled portrait that underlines the artifice behind the exercise. . . The book itself, published by Radius Books, is beautifully produced. . . invites larger questions about how state-created fictions affect us in this era of fake news, when Americans can no longer agree on what is fact. Necessary Fictions employs . . . dark humor to shine a light on the fictions invented for a society in which war has become the rule rather than the exception.
—Wayne Swanson, The Photobook Journal.
"[P]erhaps fiction is less disturbing than fact, as Cornwall's tour of the 'fantasy-industrial complex' reveals. . . Real soldiers, dressed by Hollywood makeup artists in 'moulage' (fake wounds), then pose in front of camouflage backdrops, turning the entire exercise into a performance—but for whose benefit, and at what cost? These are just some of the questions Necessary Fictions raises, but answers do not easily come. Here Cornwall shares her journey into the dark heart of America.
—Miss Rosen, "Playing War Games on American Soil, in Photos," Feature Shoot.
Necessary Fictions shortlisted for the 2020 Photo-Text Book Award at les Rencontres d'Arles.
"A fascinating book from photographer Debi Cornwall just out on Radius Books is Necessary Fictions. . . What stories we tell
ourselves in the service of empire is a multi-faceted, many-layered concept that is difficult to attack, but Cornwall guides us to a sobering analysis of the machinery of policy by presenting deceptively simple imagery."
—Michael Delgado in LA Weekly.
"Alongside the images in the book is a huge amount of research, . . . and Debi also writes more personally about her own experiences with the players. . . This response is typical of Debi’s open and questioning approach to her art, which is part conceptual and part documentary . . . the book leaves a lot of room for interpretation."
���Matt Alagiah, "Debi Cornwall explores American power and identity in the post-9/11 era," It's Nice That.
"In a fascinating discussion of what it means to be American, award-winning photographer Cornwall talks about her latest book "Necessary Fictions". After the blockbuster "Welcome To Camp America", in which she photographed both the captors and captives at the notorious detention center of Guantanamo Bay, "Necessary Fictions" continues her examination of the state-sponsored fictions that we tell ourselves in the service of empire."
— A.G. Geiger Presents: Tales from the L.A. Art Underworld, Podcast #58
"Avec Necessary Fictions, un ouvrage mêlant images, témoignages et poèmes, la photographe capture un univers surréaliste et coloré, et interroge le rôle de l’État dans la création de ces simulacres."
—Lou Tsatsas, Fisheye Magazine.
"Ms. Cornwall is an expert in this strain of American dystopia — her previous photo book, “Welcome to Camp America,” was set at the Guantánamo Bay base — and in how to convey it through eerie, washed color."
—Siddhartha Mitter, reviewing Necessary Fictions exhibition, "Photoville Adds New Vistas, Venues, and Vision," New York Times.
". . . it’s hard country to photograph, featureless and dismal even at the sweet hours of dawn and dusk, which makes Debi Cornwall’s aptly titled photographic suite Necessary Fictions all the more remarkable," with "well-written text that accompanies her arresting photographs . . . Cornwall has a clear penchant for exploring the uncivil nature of the world in which men and women are paid to 'hurt people and break things' . . . preparing for real hell by means of real make-believe. Novelist Ben Fountain calls it the Fantasy Industrial Complex, and Debi Cornwall’s book is an extraordinary chronicle of its Disneyland."
—Gregory McNamee, "Village of the Damned," Los Angeles Review of Books.
". . . the images guide us through the narrative, the accompanying text builds on the already compelling attention to detail of these scenarios" . . . "the wealth of factual references–contracts, lawsuits and statistics–reflect Cornwall’s thorough, investigative method. . . ."
—Izabela Radwanska Zhang, "Debi Cornwall Investigates the Performance of US State Control," British Journal of Photography.
"Debi is developing an extraordinary documentary voice that uses factual records of fictional events to explore our relationship with truth at a time when the traditional media doesn’t know how to respond to a heaving ocean of disinformation."
—Juries' statements in shortlisting Pineland films concept for the 2019 and 2020 Tim Hetherington Trust Visionary Awards.
Inaugural Leica Women Foto Project Award for Necessary Fictions.
"Welcome to Camp America operates by way of delicate juxtaposition. . . Cornwall, who worked as a wrongful conviction lawyer for twelve years before becoming a photographer, brings an evidentiary eye to her images.”
—Michael McCanne, "Black Sights," Art in America Magazine.
"Cornwall scrutinizes America’s most heavily guarded prison through a deconstructive lens that uncouples the visible from the familiar. Her images act as X-rays that expose the logic of a penal system responsible for torture. . . Cornwall has an eye for the deadpan ordinary detail that lacerates with banality . . . The Gitmo she shows us is hygienic, modular, efficient, mass-produced, and recognizably American in its logic, ubiquity, and form. . . Braiding these images with archival texts — sworn statements of beatings, CIA instructions for 'enhanced interrogation'” and excerpts of detainee interviews — Cornwall destabilizes Gitmo’s facade of normalcy through incisive juxtapositions and interpolations."
—Lev Feigin, "Inside Guantanamo Bay: A Photographer Documents America’s Most Heavily Guarded Prison," Hyperallergic.
"'Welcome to Camp America' is Debi Cornwall’s masterful photo series . . . Taking in Cornwall’s images is like a crash course in seeing how facts can be whitewashed and obfuscated. It’s an exercise of being shocked and horrified, but not surprised. . . Cornwall captures this absurdity throughout her work. . . almost underplaying the horror in order to get the viewer to look and think: what’s wrong with this picture?"
— Exhibition review of Welcome to Camp America:Inside Guantánamo Bay at the Philadelphia Photo Arts Center, by Deborah Krieger for Humble Arts Foundation.
". . . all of Cornwall’s work is in some way collaborative. . . her images [of Guantánamo] turn the brash tropical light into an advantage, bathing the exteriors in a washed, vaguely melancholy glare, in contrast to the institutional fluorescent of the interiors." The released-prisoner portrait "set-up invites the viewer to share in his alienation without really knowing it. He appears fragile. Our position, close behind him, is protective. We could catch him if he fell. "
—Siddhartha Mitter, "Outside the Wire: Camp America Comes Home," The Intercept.
—WCA Profiled in European Photography Magazine #102.
"Although Cornwall understands the gravity of her topic, she approaches these dilemmas with an imaginative playfulness. . . The exhibition’s startling power derives from these jarring proximities: between pain and pleasure, boredom and entertainment, revealing and redacting, beauty and abuse. . . Cornwall foments a complicated mood, an absence of answers and identities."
—Zak Hatfield on the WCA exhibition at Steven Kasher Gallery, in The Guardian.
"Debi Cornwall’s impressive Beyond Gitmo shows former prisoners of the Guantánamo Bay detention center. . . Cornwall’s work maps ruined lives in times of perpetual war and failing international politics. "
—Wilco Versteeg, "Roaming Without End," Exhibition review of En Suspens at le Bal, Aperture Magazine.
"Welcome to Camp America, Inside Guantánamo Bay (Radius Books), [is] a surreal portrait inside one of the most horrific places on earth. . . What she saw was the eerie veneer of a culture invested in appearances above all. . . Cornwall invites viewers to piece together meaning using shiny fragments of a horror story that can be felt in the portraits made of 14 former detainees. . . ."
—Miss Rosen, "A Surreal Portrait of Guantánamo Bay," Huck Magazine.
—Teju Cole names Welcome to Camp America one of the ten "Best Photo Books of 2017," New York Times Magazine.
"Debi Cornwall’s photographic study of the Guantánamo Bay detention center paints the facility in a surreal light, foregrounding its Kafkaesque contradictions and leaving the reader with the sense of having visited a twisted extrajudicial Disney World. . . " With sequencing that "bemuses and horrifies" . . . WCA's "odyssey through Guantánamo Bay is an uncomfortable but vital one—it raises serious questions as to what America really stands for, and calls to mind what Hannah Arendt called the 'banality of evil.'"
—"The Ten Best Photography Books of 2017," Smithsonian Magazine.
"Welcome to Camp America is a weighty tome that has layers upon layers... A riveting insight into the Kafkaesque qualities of this infamous facility to attend to the details of the West’s military-industrial complex, post-9/11."
—Tim Clark, "Top 10 Photo Books of 2017," 1000 Words Magazine.
"The juxtaposition of this dark humour renders the reader conflicted, uneasy and curious. The design is immersive."
—Izabela Radwanska Zhang, on WCA, on view in the Paris Photo-Aperture First Photo Book Prize exhibition, British Journal of Photography.
WCA shortlisted for the Paris Photo-Aperture First Photo Book Prize.
"Cornwall’s photographs provide a subtly layered study of an important chapter in American history. Intermingling investigative reporting with fine art aesthetics, her images constantly walk a knife-edge of interpretation, each a test of vantage point and state of mind, and it is this openness that makes the exhibit so thought-provoking and compelling. Her implied criticisms are measured, mixing the biting use of understated visual satire with a more sympathetic view of the plight of the detainees. While we never witness the horrors of torture that have become synonymous with the name Guantánamo Bay, the space in Cornwall’s photographs allows the viewer to extrapolate from the available evidence and to draw their own conclusions about the implications. By choosing a more considered approach, she’s allowed us to find our own way to certain nuanced truths and contradictions, offering us a line of thinking to follow that encourages active engagement and reconsideration."
—Loring Knoblauch on the WCA exhibition at Steven Kasher Gallery in Collector Daily.
"Debi Cornwall’s Welcome to Camp America: Inside Guantánamo Bay (Radius Books) is an exhaustively researched, exceptionally photographed documentation of one the most heavily guarded prisons in the world."
—Mark Murrmann, "These Photos Plunge You Into the Inner Madness of Guantánamo," Book review, Mother Jones.
WCA Shortlisted for the Photo-Text Award at les Rencontres d'Arles.
"Ultimately this book needs to be experienced personally to grasp its full impact. . . haunting, revealing, personal, and shocking. . . Welcome to Camp America may be the most important photobook I have read in 2017."
—Forrest Soper, Photo-Eye.
"The book she has compiled is riveting. The 'story' is told in layers, and it comes across as a mystery (or several mysteries) to uncover. . . The opening sequence of images and declassified, redacted government documents seduces and teases, like the opening of a horror-suspense film, with a series of memories, flashbacks, glimpses of evidence and obstruction. . . We are being given incomplete, government-censored pieces of an elaborate puzzle, one piece at a time. Slowly, though, vague stories begin to clarify, emerging from the fog, and become frightfully real."
—Jim Casper, Lensculture.
"[T]he effect is one of emotional dysfunction, keeling rapidly between laughter and abuse. It's sickening. And, because of that, also rather brilliant."
—Katherine Oktober Mathews reviews "Welcome to Camp America," GUP Magazine