Press Release

Student photos of foreclosed home win Lange Fellowship

| 25 February 2009

Foreclosed home in Vallejo Slide show: Rhyen Coombs' prize-winning portfolio

Photographs of possessions left in a Vallejo, Calif., home following foreclosure, an all-too-familiar contemporary event across the nation, have earned journalism student Rhyen Coombs the University of California, Berkeley's 2009 Dorothea Lange Fellowship.

Rhyen CoombsRhyen Coombs (Steve McConnell/NewsCenter photo)
The annual award sponsored by UC Berkeley's Office of Public Affairs is issued in the memory of Lange, one of the 20th century's finest documentary photographers. She became famous for her federal Farm Security Administration collaboration with her husband, the late UC Berkeley economist Paul Taylor, to photographically document the exodus of desperate farm families migrating West in search of work during another era of economic distress, the Great Depression.

The Lange award is issued annually to a UC Berkeley faculty member, graduate student or senior accepted for graduate study who shows promise in documentary photography and a creative plan for future work. It is aimed at encouraging the use of black-and-white or color photography in scholarly work.

The portfolio submitted by Coombs, a student at the Graduate School of Journalism, included vivid and haunting color photos of an immigrant family's abandoned home in a working-class neighborhood in Vallejo, a city northeast of San Francisco.

She said she plans to use the fellowship's $4,000 grant to complete a photo project that will include a book and audio-slideshow documenting the personal values and tough choices facing families experiencing foreclosure in California.

"What makes people leave behind what they once deemed worth hoarding, even treasuring?" Coombs, age 27, asked in a statement accompanying her fellowship entry. "In the abandoned space between four walls lies a metaphor for loss, and what we as a society value."