Steve Saldivar
(Photo: Peg Skorpinski)

Steve Saldivar is generally upbeat and cheerful, so it’s only when he goes quiet that his analytical side begins to show through. Most people look; Steve observes, and that nature has propelled him from an undergraduate sideline as arts editor of the Daily Californian (which helped hook him on the journalistic life) to seeking a journalism master’s degree at Berkeley’s Graduate School of Journalism, which he’ll receive this month, and a prestigious validation of his career choice: photojournalism.

Saldivar is this year’s winner of the Dorothea Lange Fellowship, which annually funds an academic project using color or black-and-white photography by a graduate student or faculty member from any discipline.

Saldivar’s series documenting Quinceañeras
An image from Saldivar’s series documenting Quinceañeras. (Photo: Steve Saldivar)

To demonstrate his bona fides, Saldivar submitted a photo essay on the cultural duality in a rite of passage for 15-year-old girls, the Quinceañera, of American-born celebrants, an ancient tradition dating back to early Aztec society and now overlaid with aspects of Christian ritual and a debutante’s coming-out. The project he proposed involves East Los Angeles, where he spent most of his life before coming to Berkeley, where he earned an English B.A. in 2006. (He worked for the University Library in 2007, and then in the Graduate Division’s Fellowships Office — essentially helping students find money — before diving into graduate study at the J-School in 2008.) In unincorporated East L.A., a new light rail line connects Saldivar’s home turf with downtown Los Angeles, With camera, he’ll be documenting the resulting interchange between the denizens of the two areas, who previously had lacked such freedom of transportation.

(For more on Saldivar and his project, see the announcement story, which includes a slideshow.)

From 2001 on, all but one of the Lange Fellowship winners have been graduate students, and the last six have all been seeking journalism degrees.

The Dorothea Lange Fellowship, sponsored by UC Berkeley’s Office of Public Affairs, is named in 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 Schuster 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. Taylor, who was a Berkeley graduate student (M.A. ’20, Ph.D. ’22), taught at Cal for four decades, training many distinguished economists and educators, among them Clark Kerr Ph.D. ’39, Berkeley’s first chancellor and the UC system’s 13th president.