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UC Berkeley student photographing fraternity life wins Dorothea Lange award

 Photo by Andrew Moisey submitted for Dorothea Lange Fellowship.
Getting ready for the Annual Awards banquet (Andrew Moisey photo)
See more of Andrew's photos
 

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

Now, his efforts to record fraternity life over the course of three years have earned him the prestigious 2004 Dorothea Lange Fellowship. The $4,000 prize is awarded annually to a UC Berkeley faculty member, graduate student or senior accepted for graduate studies. The criteria are outstanding documentary photography and a creative proposal for future work.

The fellowship is in memory of Dorothea Lange, known for landmark photographic work documenting farm families migrating West in search of work during the Depression. Lange worked with her second husband, Paul Taylor, who was a UC Berkeley professor and labor economist. The award is administered annually by the UC Berkeley Office of Public Affairs.

Moisey, 24, submitted seven close-range, black-and-white photos giving a glimpse of the often secret world of these Greek organizations. They include a pledge initiation ceremony, a party, a bare-chested brother in a bedroom doorway, a girl with pearls, a beer can and a boyfriend, and Moisey's own brother guzzling chocolate syrup.

Andrew Moisey
Andrew Moisey (Peg Skorpinski photo)
 

An Oakland resident, Moisey said he has shown his shots to the fraternity members and that they have no objections to his work. "I like hanging out with them, and they trust me," he said.

"Other photographers might try to do this project as (older) adults, looking down and back at kids they vaguely remember being," he said. "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."

His work won the apparent endorsement of the fraternity's online alumni newsletter last year when it published a handful of his photos and an essay by him in a Web "extra."

In the essay, Moisey mentions joining the fraternity brothers for dinner, for singing at a bar and for their trip in a rented Winnebago to an out-of-town football game. He admits that he didn't originally know much about fraternities beyond stereotype, hearsay, attending some weekend parties and news reports.

Other fraternities might criticize him for focusing on just one fraternity, Moisey said, but gaining access is extremely difficult and would have been unlikely without his sibling connection.

Having taken up photography as an undergraduate to learn more about the camera as part of his double major in film and rhetoric, Moisey always carries a camera with him. He wrote his undergraduate thesis on documentary photographer Walker Evens and is now a Ph.D. candidate in the film track of the Department of Rhetoric, in the College of Letters & Science.

"I sort of fell in love with this way of thinking and this way of creating that I just didn't understand, that came from inside and within," he said about photography.

When he began taking pictures about three years ago, Moisey retrieved an old Pentax K1000. It had been a Christmas gift when he was 12 and had never been used. He has since bought a Mamiya 6 with a quiet shutter and a square format for his documentary work.

Moisey said he is interested in photographing a wide range of subjects but is particularly curious about the structures of patriarchy in our society and how ritualized societies such as fraternities fit into a "cult of modern masculinity."

Although some people oppose fraternities, many consider them an important college-age stepping stone on the way to a successful and influential career. "I was a photographer who wanted to know what the future of the American upper class did inside those houses," Moisey said.

Toward that end, he said, he plans to use his fellowship funding to buy supplies and gear needed to keep shooting pictures at the fraternity and probing deeper into daily life there. His brother is off to cooking school in Boston, and many of the current brothers don't recall a time when Moisey wasn't hanging around.

"What I'm trying to figure out is what makes fraternity brothers different from other college students," he said.

Moisey intends to assemble his best work in a book that tells this complex story.

The public can take a peek at his fraternity photos on display for "Essence of Brotherhood," a show that begins March 18 in the Associated Students space in Lower Sproul Plaza. His work for the Lange contest can be seen at http://www.berkeley.edu/lange/.