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 A portfolio of photos depicting the work and home life of campus janitor Maria Silva won a Dorothea Lange prize for journalism grad student Jakob Schiller. Another prize was awarded to a fellow J-School student, Timothy Wheeler, for his photos of young Cambodian and U.S. boxers. (Jakob Schiller photo)

J-school grad students win Lange photography prize

| 19 April 2006

Two Berkeley graduate students have been named winners of the 2006 Dorothea Lange Fellowship for their photos exploring the lives of a campus custodian and of a 12-year-old aspiring boxer.

Jakob Schiller, 24, and Timothy Wheeler, 27, each will receive $4,000 to help finance future photographic projects. Both are students at the Graduate School of Journalism. Their photos can be seen online at www.berkeley.edu/lange/2006/schiller.html and www.berkeley.edu/lange/2006/wheeler.html.

The competition, sponsored annually by the campus Office of Public Affairs, is open to Berkeley faculty, graduate students, and seniors accepted for graduate work. The prize is given for outstanding work in documentary photography and a creative plan for future work.

Lange is best known for her photos recording the lives of people during the Dust Bowl of the 1930s. Her husband and collaborator Paul Taylor was a Berkeley economics professor. Much of her work is in the collection of the Oakland Museum of California.

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 says 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 says. "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 says 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 says, 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.

Schiller's co-winner, Timothy Wheeler, saiys that while working at the Phnom Penh Post in Cambodia last summer, he photographed numerous kickboxers from one of the city's most impoverished ghettos. Some of those photos, and others of a champion 12-year-old boxer in the United States, Tyler Terrazas of Vallejo, won him the Lange prize.

For complete information on the Dorothea Lange Fellowship, visit www.berkeley.edu/lange.