Slide show of Jakob Schiller's photos
In 2006, for the first time, two Dorothea Lange Fellows were selected. Jakob Schiller, 24, and Timothy Wheeler, 27, are both students at the Graduate School of Journalism.
Jakob Schiller's winning work is a series of photos of campus janitor Maria Silva, who works a 5 p.m. to 1:30 a.m. shift cleaning Wheeler Hall. His black-and-white shots caught her meticulously cleaning a public restroom, catching a catnap at her desk, and making tamales at her home.
A New Mexico native, Schiller said he has written extensively as a reporter about labor issues and is familiar with union-administration spats at UC Berkeley and UC Santa Cruz, where he was an undergraduate. "I'm aware of the issue of labor, and the struggle of people like Maria to make it in the Bay Area," Schiller said. "I think they deserve more respect."
"For 10 years, Maria has cleaned up after the students in Wheeler Hall," he wrote in a letter to the Lange fellowship committee. "Each night she puts the building back together so these same students have clean and organized classrooms to learn in the next day. By now, she's used to students forgetting to acknowledge her work."
Schiller said he spent long hours accompanying Silva as she worked, eating dinner with her, sharing jokes, and practicing his Spanish. Over the five months he pursued this photo project, he became friends with Silva and took photos of her daughter's Quinceanera, the traditional birthday party for 15-year-old girls in Latino cultures.
He opted to take his photos in black and white, using a Nikon N90 film camera, after journalism school lecturer Mimi Chakarova (a former Lange award winner) advised him that he seemed distracted by color when shooting color photos. The shift, Schiller said, helped him concentrate on his photos' composition and on the moments they capture.
His current photo project focuses on a 39-year-old San Jose man who spent 18 months in Iraq with the National Guard and now suffers from acute post-traumatic stress disorder.