If the past is a foreign country, Dorothea Lange’s images work as a visual time machine, providing a portal back to the dusty byways, rural backroads and prison camps that many would prefer to forget. A Berkeley resident for much of her life, Lange continues to serve as a beacon for documentary photographers, not least at UC Berkeley ever since Cal economics professor Paul Taylor established a fellowship to honor his late wife some two decades after her death in 1965.
Open to faculty members, graduate students, or seniors who’ve been accepted for graduate work at Cal, the Dorothea Lange Fellowship isn’t officially associated with the Graduate School of Journalism, but it’s not surprising that the honor has taken up part-time residence in the J-School’s North Gate Hall. On Feb. 22 , 6:30-8:30 p.m., the J-School presents “Photographer Dorothea Lange and the Berkeley Connection: Forty Years of Lange Fellowship Winners,” an online event celebrating the ongoing power of Lange’s influence.
In 1987, Logan Professor of Photojournalism Ken Light was the first person associated with the J-School to receive the prestigious campus award. He is hosting Monday’s presentation, focusing on Lange’s deep ties to the community.
“They lived at 1163 Euclid and hung out at Berkeley,” said Light, who’ll show some of the iconic photos of migrant farm workers that Lange took for the Farm Security Administration during the Great Depression and her long-suppressed images of the Japanese internment.
The $4,000 fellowship has helped support and launch a bevy of excellent photographers from the J-School, several of whom will be on hand to talk about the projects they pursued with that funding. Los Angeles native Clara Mokri, who’ll graduate from the J-School in the spring with a master’s degree in documentary filmmaking, is the most recent recipient of the Dorothea Lange Fellowship (as well as the 2020 Jim Marshall Fellowship in photojournalism at UC Berkeley).
The daughter of Iranian-born Hollywood cinematographer Amir Mokri, she grew up in a family where a video camera was omnipresent. When her grandfather was diagnosed with Alzheimer’s her interest in photography became a calling.
“It made me want to document things around me, the idea of archiving things that happened to you, with more of a sense of urgency,” said Mokri, whose work has been featured in Time, Vice, Surfer Magazine, California Sunday, New York Magazine, Mother Jones, Sports Illustrated among others.
“Clara produces very tight, well composed, well-edited images,” Light said. “They impact you. I think one reason that J-Schoolers often win the Lange Fellowship is that they’re really focused on storylines and creating a cohesive body of work. They could go out for a month and come back with photos they outlined.”
Mokri’s proposal involved a reporting trip to Indonesia, but it was postponed due to the pandemic. The 2021 Lange Fellowship was also postponed until at least early spring semester due to COVID-19 travel restrictions.