About the 2014 fellow

The image — a steaming bowl of soup, a roll and the stunned look on the face of the man about to consume them — captures just one of the stories of a native American people whose way of life has been rent by the wall and fence dividing Arizona from Mexico.

The barrier, intended to limit migration and also to secure U.S. borders, has split the Tohono O’odham Nation, separating communities in Sonora from communities in Arizona, disrupting families, a culture and the local economy. Visual storyteller Jason Jaacks, a second-year student in UC Berkeley’s Graduate School of Journalism, has been documenting life along this stretch of the border since 2008, and a selection of his still photographs from the project just earned him the 2014 Dorothea Lange Fellowship.

The fellowship, created in memory of Lange, one of the most outstanding documentary photographers of 20th-century America, encourages the use of photography in scholarly work at UC Berkeley. It is sponsored by the Office of Public Affairs.

Jaacks, a Denver native who studied documentary photography — and Lange’s work — as an undergraduate at what is now the Santa Fe University of Art and Design, has been evolving as a documentarian in the digital age, using multimedia to expand what is possible in visual storytelling.

“What’s amazing about the J-School — the multimedia program specifically — is that they are operating in the space that doesn’t see boundaries so much between documentary photography, documentary film and the internet,” says Jaacks. “I think the way the internet is developing and these technologies are developing is breaking down barriers.”

Jaacks is taking the same approach in his work, and with his production company, Splitframe Media. He brings all the powers of digital media to bear on his documentary subjects: still photography, video/film, audio, the written word.

On splitframemedia.com, viewers can see parts of a Jaacks work in progress about a different kind of barrier, a hydroelectric dam on the Elwha River in Washington state. The dam blocked the upstream migration of salmon for most of a century before it was taken down, the largest dam-removal project in U.S. history. Jaacks uses all of digital media’s tools to tell the story of the fish, the river and the dam.

The border project, called Border Dispatches, is a collaboration between Jaacks and another J-School student, and the two are heading back to the border during spring break to pick up the story. The still photos Jaacks submitted for the Lange Fellowship contest convey the vastness of the Sonoran desert, the slash of the fence running for miles across it, the bleak faces of people on both sides of it.

With his fellowship award, Jaacks plans to tell a different story, about the devastation of the small fishing communities of the Sea of Cortez, whose bounty he says has been plundered.

“Thrill-seeking Americans come hunting for trophy sailfish. Far-reaching Japanese fleets roam offshore waters to catch fish for Japan. Mexican corporations ply the waters hauling stadium-sided nets,” writes Jaacks in his fellowship proposal.

He plans a photographic expedition to document the effects on local fishermen and their communities with hopes of telling a bigger story: “A globalized fish market and its effects on the people who have chased these creatures for generations.”