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Hardcover, 7.5 x 11 in. / 172 pgs / 70 color.

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Catalog: SPRING 2020 p. 93   

ISBN 9781942185697 TRADE
List Price: $55.00 CDN $77.00 GBP £50.00

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Debi Cornwall: Necessary Fictions

Text by Sarah Sentilles, Makeda Best, Nomi Stone, Roy Scranton.

Debi Cornwall: Necessary Fictions

From the author of Welcome to Camp America, an eerie exploration of America’s performance of power and identity in the post-9/11 era

What are the stories we tell ourselves, the games we play, to manage unsettling realities? Made on ten military bases across the United States since 2016, Necessary Fictions documents mock-village landscapes in the fictional country of “Atropia” and its denizens, roleplayers who enact versions of their past or future selves in realistic training scenarios.

Costumed Afghan and Iraqi civilians, many of whom have fled war, now recreate it in the service of the US military. Real soldiers pose in front of camouflage backdrops, dressed by Hollywood makeup artists in “moulage”—fake wounds—as they prepare to deploy.

Brooklyn-based conceptual documentary artist and former civil rights lawyer Debi Cornwall (born 1973) photographs this meta-reality—the artifice of war—presented in the book with a variety of texts to provoke critical inquiry about America’s fantasy industrial complex. The book includes an essay by PEN Award–winning critical theorist Sarah Sentilles.

Featured image is reproduced from 'Debi Cornwall: Necessary Fictions.'


Los Angeles Review of Books

Gregory McNamee

...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.

British Journal of Photography

Izabela Radwanska Zhang

...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...

It's Nice That

Matt Alaigiah

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

LA Weekly

Michael Delgado

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.

Feature Shoot

Miss Rosen

Real soldiers, dressed by Hollywood makeup artists in “moulage” (fake wounds), pose 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

American Suburb X

Sunil Shah

Necessary fictions” both characterizes state-created realities, whether simulation in the military training context or the deployment and consumption of fictions in civilian society, and also comments on the documentary form.

What Will You Remember?

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.

Washington Post

Kenneth Dickerman

The book itself, a hefty 324 pages containing 104 images, is beautiful. The images are beautifully reproduced on thick paper. The very artfulness of the photos seem to belie the deadly seriousness of the book.


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.

Collector Daily

Loring Knoblauch

In Necessary Fictions, Cornwall has thoughtfully shown us the point where the separation between real war and a well-made reality show becomes disturbingly hard to comprehend.

Brooklyn Rail

Jean Dykstra

A critical consideration of photography and its unreliability as a factual document.

Debi Cornwall: Necessary Fictions

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Debi Cornwall's 'Necessary Fictions' makes for interesting 9/11 reading

Debi Cornwall's 'Necessary Fictions' makes for interesting 9/11 reading

Featured photograph is reproduced from Necessary Fictions, Debi Cornwall's new book investigating American military bases where role-players enact highly realistic training exercises in a fictional country called “Atropia.” Cornwall tells the following story. "In the years after September 11, an American friend of mine traveled for the first time to a Muslim country. Malaysia, maybe. Or Indonesia. He was awakened by the early-morning azan as muezzins around the city lifted their voices to call the faithful to prayer. It terrified him, he confided.
For all the mosques in the 'ville, I have never heard a call to prayer here. Five times a day, action does not stop. The faithful do not gather, wash, place their shoes outside, and kneel side by side to pray.
On my last rotation I encounter a fellow civilian, carrying a radio and a notepad. A consultant, he says. His job is to report back on how the scenarios play out, how realistic they are, where there is room for improvement.
'If the 'ville is a stand-in for Afghanistan or Iraq,' I ask, 'why no call to prayer?' 'Interesting,' he replies, nodding. 'That's a good idea.'" continue to blog



Debi Cornwall's 'Necessary Fictions' examines the secret world of American military roleplay

Debi Cornwall's 'Necessary Fictions' examines the secret world of American military roleplay

"Insurgent" is reproduced from Necessary Fictions, Debi Cornwall's new book of conceptual documentary photographs related to highly realistic role-playing exercises at American military training camps. A book that is provocative and fascinating in the revelatory strangeness of its subject alone, like all Radius books this is also a beautiful piece of photobook publishing, featuring copious supporting primary text materials, several deluxe papers, exquisite printing, a bound-in booklet containing transcript from a 2009 training exercise gone awry, and an envelope containing studio portraits of soldiers dressed for their roles as injured or deceased combatants. We learn that contemporary combat training includes not only exposure to "the visual stimulation of MST prosthetics," but scent oils that "simulate scents in the most unpleasant of scenarios." These include Decaying Flesh, Dead Body, Feces, Gunpowder, Burnt Flesh, Vomit, Urine and Car Bomb. Islamic prayer beads for Ramadan are sourced; authentic meals are cooked by Iraqi role-players; realistic remains are identified. "Cornwall's photographs demonstrate the paradox of this fictional mode," Makeda Best writes: "the photographs are not 'authentic' documents, but they are documents. They are documents of the fictions of this ongoing conflict and the fiction of photography as something that could tell us the truth about war." continue to blog


Debi Cornwall: Necessary Fictions



ISBN: 9781942185697
USD $55.00
| CAN $77 UK £ 50

Pub Date: 9/1/2020
Active | In stock