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Welcome to Camp America: Inside Guantánamo Bay

Debi Cornwall

In this photo book, touring exhibition, and series of community talks, conceptual documentary artist and former civil rights attorney Debi Cornwall employs photographs, archival material and text to disrupt assumptions and provoke new inquiry about Guantánamo Bay and the "Global War on Terror."


About the book:

Hardcover, 7x9.5". 160 pages, 70 color images. Available now at Radius Books, including limited editions with choice of prints.

Named as one of Smithsonian Magazine's Ten Best Photography Books of 2017. Shortlisted for the 2017 Paris Photo-Aperture First PhotoBook Award and the 2017 Les Rencontres d'Arles Photo-Text Book Award.

Selected Reviews:

  • Mother Jones ("exhaustively researched, exceptionally photographed... It’s rare to find a photobook in which the book doesn’t just act as an outlet, but actually amplifies the power of the work within.");
  • Bookforum ("a sense of wondering rage");
  • Photo-Eye ("haunting, revealing, personal, and shocking"); 
  • British Journal of Photography ("The juxtaposition of this dark humour renders the reader conflicted, uneasy and curious. The design is immersive.");
  • Smithsonian Magazine ("Cornwall... casts a critical, deliberate eye"); and
  • National Geographic Magazine ("captures the stark contrast of life for prisoners and soldiers at the prison").

A vivid and disorienting glimpse into the U.S. Naval Station in Guantánamo Bay, Cuba, (known as “Gitmo”) and its growing diaspora, through photographs, once-classified government documents, and first-person accounts. Welcome to Camp America reflects three bodies of work, including: Gitmo at Home, Gitmo at Play, showing residential and leisure spaces of both prisoners and guards; Gitmo on Sale, depicting the commodification of American military power through gift-shop souvenirs; and Beyond Gitmo, investigating life after detention with 14 men once held as accused terrorists, now cleared and freed, living in nine countries, from Albania to Qatar. Environmental portraits in the free world replicate conditions of military regulation photography at Guantánamo Bay: no faces are shown. With unique construction in English and Arabic, the book seeks common ground while provoking new questions about compromises made between humanity and fear in the post-9/11 era. With essays by British releasee Moazzam Begg and ICP Dean Emeritus Fred Ritchin.

About the touring exhibition:

The Steven Kasher Gallery hosts the U.S. debut of the solo exhibition of Welcome to Camp America, Inside Guantánamo Bay from 26 October through 22 December 2017, incorporating photographs, once-classified archival material, and a sound installation in collaboration with investigative poet Frank Smith.

Welcome to Camp America has been a solo exhibition in Switzerland, at the Centre de la Photographie Genève; China, where it won the Punctum Award at the 2016 Lianzhou International Photo Festival; South Korea, at the BMW Photo Space of the GoEun Museum of Photography, Busan; and in the U.S. at Brown University's Carriage House Gallery. In 2017, images from the series have been included in group shows within the United States including Something Fierce at the Lannan Foundation Gallery (Santa Fe, NM), featuring eight women artists in the Lannan Foundation's collection whose work exemplifies an element of ferocity, whether it be expressed in the subject, process or intent; the Aperture Foundation Gallery's Summer Open show, curated by the artists' Super PAC, For Freedoms; and Bending the Frame, featuring artists and documentarians using alternative strategies for social change. Curated by Fred Ritchin at NYU's Tisch School of the Arts Gulf & Western Gallery. Installation views here. International venues now being scheduled for 2018.

About the community conversation:

Free public programming is an integral part of this project. In connection with the book's release in 2017, Cornwall gave talks and participated in panels at Brown University, CUNY John Jay College, NYU, and Columbia Paris Global Centers. In conection with her Centre de la Photographie Genève exhibition, Cornwall was invited to address diplomats at United Nations headquarters. And at Steven Kasher Gallery, for the first time in the United States, she brought together a panel of speakers with first-hand experiences on both sides of the wire at Guantánamo Bay, including releasee memoirist Mohamedou Ould Slahi, former interrogator Mark Fallon, civil rights attorney J. Wells Dixon, in a conversation with her, moderated by critic and scholar Fred Ritchin.

A full listing of events is here.

Your contribution through NYFA to help fund the project is tax deductible.


Photographs were made possible by the generous support of the Speranza Foundation's Lincoln City Fellowship, the Violet Jabara Charitable Trust (VJCT), the Puffin Foundation, the Pollination Project, and a private donor. I am also grateful to the Vital Projects Fund at Proteus, the VJCT, the David Rockefeller Fund, the Elizabeth Firestone Graham Foundation, and the Lannan Foundation for their support toward publication of the book.

  David Rockefeller Fund

About Debi

Debi Cornwall is a conceptual documentary artist who returned to visual expression in 2014 after a 12-year career as a civil rights lawyer. Her work examines American power and identity in the post-September 11 era. Trained in photography at the Rhode Island School of Design (RISD) while completing a Bachelor’s degree in Modern Culture and Media at Brown University, Cornwall went on to attend Harvard Law School and practiced for more than a decade as a civil rights attorney. Informed by her experience representing innocent DNA exonerees, her visual work marries empathy and dark humor with systemic critique. In 2016, she was nominated for the Baum Award for an Emerging American Photographer, and was awarded Duke University’s Archive of Documentary Arts Collection Award for Women Documentarians, and the Lianzhou Foto Festival’s jury prize, the Punctum Award. She is a 2017 Fitt Artist-in-Residence at Brown University and a 2017-2019 Center for Emerging Visual Artists Fellow.

See more at www.debicornwall.com.