Donna DeCesare


Donna DeCesare

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 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,” 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 Eisenstadt 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.  Her photographic memoir  Unsettled / Desasociego: Children in a World of Gangs  (2013) compliments her website Destiny's Children / Hijos del Destino (2010). 

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 Soros Independent Project fellowship (2001),  a (2005) Fulbright Fellowship and most recently an Open Society Foundations grant 2010-2011.

Current and Recent Highlights

DeCesare's photography is included in War / Photography,  which opened at the Museum of Fine Art Houston, on November 11, 2012 and travels to: Annenberg Space for Photography, Los Angeles, March 23 – June 2, 2013; the Corcoran Gallery of Art, Washington, June 29 - September 29, 2013; the Brooklyn Museum, November 8, 2013 - February 2, 2014 

DeCesare's most recent one woman exhibition  “Unsettled” opened at the Benson Latin American Library gallery on April 25, 2013 travelling to a host of other venues in 2013 and 2014.  "Desarraigos" previously exhibited at the Museo Tecleño, Santa Tecla, El Salvador was permanently installed as a  photographic exhibition at the Journalism School of  the Universidad Centroamerica Jose Simeon Cañas (UCA) in El Salvador in February 2013.

A KNOW feature and video highlighting DeCesare’s decade of teaching at UT Austin and discussing the publication of her new book Unsettled / Desasosiego was featured on the University homepage May 3- 12, 2013.   DeCesare’s recent book reviews and radio and online interviews can be seen and heard here. (click load more at bottom of page for earlier reviews).   Some highlights include, NYT, Mother Jones, FotoEvidence, Le Journal de la Photographie, PRI’s the World and Morning Edition

Read about her 2011 Open Society Foundations Grant and about the Houses on the Moon play De Novo that DeCesare brought to El Salvador as well as results from her workshops with teenagers and University students  which can be seen at  Santa Tecla: A Story

Professor DeCesare participated in the judging of the Freelance/Agency Division in the 67th Pictures of the Year International Photojournalism Contest held at the University of Missouri School of Journalism from Feb 20-27,  2010

Other projects, community service and workshop teaching

Since coming to the University of Texas, DeCesare has continued with several long term documentary projects. Her initial work on her ongoing 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” currently traveling and formerly exhibited in New York, Washington, D.C., Korea, Poland and China.  The 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  Spanish language video by the Desearte Paz project highlights DeCesare's work and the exhibitions. 

DeCesare coordinates Latin American outreach for the Dart Center for Journalism and Trauma at Columbia University School of Journalism [read her curator’s statement]   She has created an educational lecture, “Witnessing and Picturing Violence,”  in spanish Ser Testigo featuring work from a variety of situations from conflicts to natural disasters to her work on a  women's prison project  as a way to provoke discussion of ethical image making and ways to reach and include new audiences for documentary work. 

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, China and most recently in 2011and 2012 in Latin America. 


Contact Information:

Phone: 512-471-1980

Donna DeCesare's new website:

Donna DeCesare's CV

Recent Courses

J340J / J395.4 / LAS 322 / LAS 381.22    The Documentary Tradition in  Latin America  (Global Cultures Flag)
J334G / J395    Advanced Visual Journalism: Video  (Independent Inquiry Flag, Ethics and Leadership Flag) 
J362E / J387P    A Cultural History of Photography
J311    Reporting with Images: Module B -- Verité Video storytelling
J316   Visual Communication ( Concepts, Critical thinking and  Practice for Photojournalists) 
J390P    Advanced Visual Projects Seminar
Senior Fellows:  Archive Detectives  (Fall 2013)