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Donna De Cesare

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An award-winning photographer, videographer and journalist with a focus on Latin American issues, Donna DeCesare joined the faculty at the University of Texas at Austin in the spring semester of 2002 after a 20-year professional career as a freelance visual reporter covering stories in the US, Asia, the Middle East, and Latin America.

Early in her career she covered conflicts in Northern Ireland and in Central America. Based in El Salvador during the last years of that country’s civil war, DeCesare reported and photographed from the region for leading US and European newspapers. Among the many news and arts publications that have featured DeCesare’s photographs are: The New York Times Magazine, Life, Newsweek, The Atlantic, Mother Jones, DoubleTake, and Aperture. Since 1995, she also has worked as a video journalist and producer on numerous documentaries for The Learning Channel. Killer Virus, a team effort and her first collaboration with TLC won an Emmy Award in 1996.

DeCesare is perhaps most widely known for her groundbreaking reportage on the spread of Los Angeles gangs in Central America, work which garnered significant competitive grant support and major national and international awards among them: an Alfred Eistendstadt magazine photography award (2000), a Canon photo essay award in Pictures of the Year (2000), and an award for reporting on criminal justice from the National Center on Crime and Delinquency.

DeCesare's internationally competitive grants and fellowships include the Dorothea Lange Prize from the Center for Documentary Studies at Duke University (1993), a New York Foundation for the Arts photography grant (1996), an Alicia Patterson Fellowship (1997), the Mother Jones/Fifty Crows International Photo Fund grant (1999), a George Soros Independent Project Fellowship (2001), and most recently a Fulbright Fellowship (2005).

An extensive online interactive resume of Professor DeCesare’s current and recent exhibitions, publications and lectures is available.

Highlights:  Exhibitions, Publications and Speaking Events 2009-2010

DeCesare’s exhibition, “Destiny’s Children/Hijos del Destino,” culled from nearly 20 years following the stories of US and Latin American youth impacted by gangs, has been exhibited all over the world, including at the Museum of Contemporary Art in Guangzhou China in May-July 2009. A selection of work including some images from this project was exhibited at the Harry Ransom Center in 2008 and is currently in the HRC permanent photographic collections.

Since coming to the University of Texas, DeCesare has begun several new documentary projects. Her initial work on her latest project documenting narratives of loss and survival among those who have suffered paramilitary violence in Colombia was published on the Web site “Crimes of War” winning a top prize in the Best of Photojournalism in 2002.

A Fulbright fellowship and Dean’s leave in 2005 resulted in the 2006 exhibition series, “Sharing Secrets: Children’s Portraits Exposing Stigma” which was supported by the Moving Walls Series of the Open Society Institute and has traveled to New York, Washington, D.C., Korea, Poland and China. It is currently on view at the Open Society Institute office of Public Health in New York City where it is scheduled to remain until winter 2011. These photographs and testimonies from children in Guatemala and Colombia who are former child soldiers, survivors of sexual abuse, or who live with the stigma of HIV aided UNICEF in developing protocols for photographing children at risk.

A 2008 Mellon Summer research grant from the Lozano Long Center for Latin American studies provided vital support for her work photographing and teaching photography in a women’s prison in Colombia. The project resulted in a dual exhibition in the prison and at the Colombo Americano art gallery in Medellin. A video by the Desearte Paz project, which invited DeCesare and coordinated the resulting exhibitions, can be seen (in Spanish).

DeCesare is currently shaping this work for publication and has created an educational lecture featuring the project which is available in video format—“Witnessing and Picturing Violence” with a study guide at the website of the Dart Center for Journalism and Trauma at the University of Columbia Graduate School of Journalism.

DeCesare holds an M. Phil degree in Literature and Comparative Studies from the University of Essex in England. When she is not teaching at the University of Texas, she lectures, exhibits, publishes, and continues to photograph. She also finds time to mentor young photographers in other parts of the world conducting photography workshops for at-risk youth, journalism students and professional photojournalists in the US, Spain, Latin America and most recently in 2009 in China.

In 2010 Donna De Cesare won an Open Society Institute Audience Engagement Grant to partner with El Salvador's Jesuit-run Universidad Centroamericana and the The Mesoamerica Center to combine photography, theater, and skills-based media workshops for youth to address the complex ways that gang violence and migration impact the human rights of young people in Central America. 

2010-2011 Current and Upcoming:

  • Donna DeCesare’s exhibition Indigenous Maya is included in the premier exhibition of the Visual Arts Center at the University of Texas opening September 24, 2010.
  • Her work is featured in the exhibition Gang Life: Between Belonging and Exclusion opening at the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime in Vienna Austria in October 2010
  • She will be presenting and exhibiting work at an international conference on youth violence in Quito Ecuador in October 2010
  • She will have a major retrospective show in Buenos Aires, Argentina in Spring 2011.

Donna's work may be reviewed a the following websites:

Information on Sharing Secrets (traveling exhibition)
Information on Destiny’s Children (Latino gangs)
Information on Crimes of War (continuing project)

For more information and to contact Donna, please see her website.

Copyright © 2010 by Donna De Cesare, to any and all images by Ms. De Cesare appearing on FrankSmyth.com.

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