Wednesday, September 28, 2016

Debi Cornwall at the Filter Photo Festival

The 8th Annual Filter Photo Festival took place this past weekend in Chicago. Attracting fine art photographers from around the country, the event offered a variety of workshops, artist lectures, portfolio reviews and social programming. Participating periodically since 2010, I was again asked to take part as one of the event’s portfolio reviewers. I spent this past Sunday meeting some amazing artists, discussing various visual concepts and exploring some wonderful imagery.

The event organizers sent each reviewer a list of the photographers who had scheduled a time slot to meet with them. From the very beginning of my participation, I found this helpful. With the use of the Internet, the list offered me the opportunity to review each artist and the history of their published work—providing me a bit of insight… an extended context to review the work. During my research, I found that many of the artists had been creating work focused on human rights issues. I was intrigued since these atrocities have been my curatorial focus for the past decade.

The imagery of one artist is still seared into my mind. That is the work of Conceptual Documentary Artist [and Former Civil Rights Attorney], Debi Cornwall. Debi Cornwall’s work documents life at the Guantanamo Bay Detention Camp. Cornwall’s project, “GITMO at Home, GITMO at Play” explores the grim absurdity of life for those displaced to Guantanamo Bay after 9/11, as well as the soldiers who guard them.

Sixty-one men are currently being detained at Guantanamo Bay—many of who were cleared for release years ago. They are being held as “unprivileged belligerents.” Cornwall’s conceptual photographic documentary project is powerful but a second series of photographs titled “Beyond GITMO” is—to say the least—heart wrenching. Cornwall presents a view of the alleged terrorists after they have been cleared of charges and released. Hundreds of these men were held for years without being charged or tried. When they were released, they returned home or were displaced to foreign countries. Cornwall’s imagery presents them within their environment. She creates powerful portraits replicating the same regulations required of her while photographing at GITMO—concealing the identity of the subject. The situation is horrifyingly offensive and Cornwall’s imagery is powerfully moving.

This March, a book documenting Debi Cornwall's GITMO Bay Project will be published. You can learn more about the upcoming book release as well as the coinciding exhibitions at:

I hope to see you, next year, at the 9th Annual Filter Photo Festival, which will be held again at the Millennium Knickerbocker. The dates are: September 21–24, 2017. You can learn more about the event at: