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Fraternity-life witness wins Dorothea Lange Fellowship

| 04 February 2004

 



Rhetoric grad student Andrew Moisey (above) turned a documentary photographer’s eye on fraternity life, examining the “cult of masculinity” that holds sway in American society.
Peg Skorpinski photo

When graduate student Andrew Moisey began taking a camera on his visits to a Berkeley fraternity, he told himself he was documenting the likely decline of his newly pledged brother.

Now, Moisey’s intermittent photo record of fraternity life has earned him the prestigious 2004 Dorothea Lange Fellowship, awarded annually for outstanding documentary photography and a creative proposal for future work. Campus faculty members, graduate students, or seniors accepted for graduate studies are eligible for the $4,000 prize.

Moisey, 24, submitted seven black-and-white close-ups taken inside his brother’s fraternity house. One documents a pledge initiation ceremony, another is Moisey’s own brother guzzling chocolate syrup.

“Other photographers might try to do this project as [older] adults, looking down and back at kids they vaguely remember being,” says Moisey, an Oakland resident. “As I photograph now, I am going through the same stage of life my subjects are, at the same college, with similar dreams and similar problems.”

Last year his work won the apparent endorsement of the fraternity’s online alumni newsletter, which published a handful of his photos, along with an essay by Moisey, in a web “extra.”

Moisey has photographed a number of fraternity events over the years, and has photos to prove it: fraternity brothers engaged in horseplay, singing at the a bar, anticipating their trip to an out-of-town football game in a rented Winnebago — an outing that he joined. He admits that before the project his view of fraternity life was shaped by stereotypes. When his brother first told him he intended to join a frat, Moisey remembers, “I told him, ‘Your life is going to be driven by your testosterone.’”

A double major in film and rhetoric, Moisey wrote his undergraduate thesis on documentary photographer Walker Evens, and is now a Ph.D. rhetoric candidate, specializing in film, in the College of Letters & Science. He always carries a camera with him, he says.

“I sort of fell in love with this way of thinking and creating that ... came from inside and within,” he says.

When he began taking pictures about three years ago, Moisey started with a Pentax K1000 that had been given to him when he was 12. It had never been used. He has since bought a square-format Mamiya 6 with a quiet shutter for his documentary work.

He’s interested in photographing a wide range of subjects, he says, but is particularly curious about patriarchal structures and how ritualized societies such as fraternities fit into a “cult” of modern masculinity. “What I’m trying to figure out is what makes fraternity brothers different from other college students,” Moisey says. He hopes to assemble his best work in a book that tells this complex story.

Though his brother is now off to cooking school in Boston, Moisey plans to keep shooting pictures at the fraternity — where many of the brothers, he says, can’t recall a time when he wasn’t hanging around.

An exhibition of Moisey’s fraternity photos, titled “Essence of Brotherhood,” will be on view beginning March 18, in the Associated Students space in Lower Sproul Plaza. An exhibit of his work for the Lange Fellowship will be on display on campus next fall.

For details on the Lange Fellowship, see www.berkeley.edu/lange/.