Debi Cornwall

Winner of the Prix Elysée 2023
30.06 – 01.10.2023

Debi Cornwall (United States, 1973), winner of the Prix Elysée 2023, one of the most prestigious photography prizes in the world, presents Model Citizens. In this series, which is still in progress, she explores how staging, performance and role-playing feed into the idea of citizenship in our Western societies. The photographic medium becomes here a tool for political analysis.

Model Citizens

Selected among the eight nominated projects of the Prix Elysée 2023, "Debi Cornwall's work is in line with current events", underlines the jury, "and is an important contribution that is timely, given the effect of fake news in our societies. Throught her research, the artist questions the blurred line between truth and fiction. The project, which is both a political and intellectual commitment, points to the urgency and necessity of questioning photography as a proof. The impact of fake news is not limited to the United States – the artist is telling a local story that talks about global issues. We are convinced that with the Prix Elysée, Debi Cornwall will reach a new and wider audience and that the prize will help increase her visibility in Europe."


"How do we make sense of life in a violent country? How do performances and fictions and playing roles help us either make sense of our violent culture or justify the violence or distract ourselves from it?"

Career path

Debi Cornwall is an American conceptual documentary artist who has focused on her career as an artist since 2014 after practicing for twelve years as a civil rights attorney. Employing absurdity and dark humor, she excavates invisible systems by layering still and moving images with testimony and archival material. Her books Welcome to Camp America : Inside Guantánamo Bay and Necessary Fictions (Radius Book, 2017 and 2020) have received numerous awards.

"After a career in civil-rights law, I came back to photography looking to illuminate hidden truths. My work seeks to understand and illuminate these powerful political, corporate, and social forces. Photographs can be evidence, yes, but evidence of what? My project, Model Citizens, examines the staging of reality and the performance of citizenship in the United States, a militarized country whose citizens cannot agree on what is true. Now I'm casting a wider net, making photographs more elliptically related to my topic, from institutional staging and roleplay to the performances we play out communally, consciously or not."

Exhibition views

Prix Elysée

Offering support and financial means to photographers is as important as preserving their art for future generations. It is in a shared commitment to foster creativity and support the production of new work that Photo Elysée and Parmigiani Fleurier have been founding partners of the Prix Elysée since 2014.


The Prix Elysée is the result of an exclusive partnership between Photo Elysée and Parmigiani Fleurier.