Carolyn Drake works on long term photo-based projects seeking to interrogate dominant historical narratives and imagine alternatives to them. Her work explores community and the interactions within it, as well as the barriers and connections between people, between places and between ways of perceiving.
Early in her career, she adopted a lyrical approach to photo making. Recently, her practice has embraced collaboration, and through this, collage, drawing, sewing, text, and found images have been integrated into her work. She is interested in collapsing the traditional divide between author and subject, the real and the imaginary, challenging entrenched binaries.
Drake was born in California and studied Media/Culture and History in the early 1990s at Brown University. Following her graduation from Brown, in 1994, Drake moved to New York and worked as a interactive concept designer for many years before departing to engage with the physical world through photography.
Between 2007 and 2013, Drake traveled frequently to Central Asia from her base in Istanbul to work on two long term projects which became acclaimed bodies of work. Wild Pigeon (2014) is an amalgam of photographs, drawings, and embroideries made in collaboration with Uyghurs in western China. In 2018, the SFMOMA acquired the body of work and opened a six month solo exhibition of Wild Pigeon. Two Rivers (2013) explores the connections between ecology, culture and political power along the Amu Dary and Syr Darya rivers and was exhibited at The Pitt Rivers Museum, the Soros Foundation, the Third Floor Gallery, and the Photo Book Museum, among other venues.
In Internat (2014-17), Drake worked with young women in an ex Soviet orphanage to create photographs and paintings that point beyond the walls of the institution and its gender expectations. The work was exhibited at the Houston Center for Photography in the US, and at Si Fest and Officine Fotografiche Roma in Italy.
Drake returned to the US in 2014 and is now based in Vallejo, California, from where she is currently making work that upends perceptions of gender, community, and safety in two American communities.
Drake is the recipient of a Guggenheim fellowship, the Lange-Taylor Prize, the Anamorphosis prize, an HCP fellowship, a Lightwork residency, and a Fulbright fellowship to Ukraine, among other awards. Her work has been published widely, in publications such as The New Yorker, Aperture, The New York Review of Books, Harpers, Foam, The New York Times Magazine, Prix Pictet, IMA, the British Journal of Photography, The Guardian, and Paris Review. She became an associate of Magnum Photos in 2017.