Cynthia O’Dell was born in Oregon and grew up in Iowa. She is a photographer and video artist who employs an experimental documentary style. For over twenty-five years she has worked to counter traditional modes of representation, and transcend stereotypes particularly in relation to class and gender. She has shown her films and photographic works extensively throughout the United States and Europe. Solo exhibitions include sites such as the Pfizer headquarters in Mid-Town Manhattan, and the Viewing Room Gallery (formerly in Chelsea). In addition, her project Messengers of Yesterday debuted in Ireland at Quay Mills in Kilrush, Ireland in conjunction with the 2013 Famine Commemoration.
She has received numerous awards. She was a recent finalist in the London Renaissance Photography Prize Exhibition, chosen for Photo Ireland, 2012 and awarded second prize in exhibition at the Contemporary Photography Programme at the Archisle Institute in Jersey (Channel Islands) also, 2012.
She was also awarded best experimental documentary at the 2003 New York International Film and Video Festival for her film, “Residue of Memory,” and her 1998 project common threads (larger than life photographic quilts depicting the lives of women living with breast cancer) traveled to over eighteen locations throughout the U.S. and received best of show in 2001 by the late Hollis Sigler, for the exhibition titled, “A Shared Journey: Confronting Cancer Through Art.” Mary Chandler with the Rocky Mountain News wrote "...O'Dell hits the target: Often Art that tries to make a statement on illness becomes more self-indulgence than self-expression, but O'Dell's Common Threads carries a real impact on the topic of breast cancer: Her huge embroidered velvet "frames" have a strong emotional center. No bathos, just connection." The exhibition traveled to over fifteen sites, including the Pfizer headquarters in Manhattan and the Viewing Room, previously in Chelsea.
O’Dell is included in many publications including Intimate Landscapes- Open To Interpretation (St. Paul, MN and the award winning monograph by Portugese Scholar Susana Noronha, A Tinta, a Mariposa e a Metástase: a arte como experiência, conhecimento e acçãosobre o cancro de mama [The Paint, the Mariposa and the Metastasis: art as experience, knowledge and intervention on breast cancer].
She has lectured on her work at over thirty locations in both the U.S. and Ireland and been an artist in residence at the Burren College of Art, (Ballyvaughn Ireland), Colorado College, The F. Holland Day workshops for women living with breast cancer and the University of Colorado at Boulder book arts program.
O'Dell is a Professor of Art in Photography and Video. She has been teaching at DePauw since 1998, is a former chair of the Art Department and is the recipient of two DePauw Fisher Fellowships and University Professorship. She received her BFA from the University of Iowa in, Art, with honors and a BA in English Literature, in 1993. She has an MFA from the University of Colorado, Boulder in 1998 (with additional study at Arizona State University). She studied under Peter Feldstein, Margaret Stratton, Albert Chong, Melanie Walker, Alex Sweetman, Barbara Jo Revelle, Tamara Kaida, Bill Jenkins, Bill Jay, Mark Klett, Erika Doss and Luis Valdovino.