Jessica Eve Rattner Wins CDS Prize for “House of Charm” Photo Essay

Lee reads several newspapers daily. She especially likes the funnies, and always does the Word Scramble puzzles.

Lee reads several newspapers daily, Berkeley, California, 2012. Photograph by Jessica Eve Rattner.

I have long been interested in our culture’s ideas of beauty, happiness, and mental health—especially as they relate to women. Who decides who is ‘crazy’ and who is ‘sane’?”CDS Documentary Essay Prizewinner Jessica Eve Rattner

For ten years, American photographer Jessica Eve Rattner has been creating an ongoing portrait of Lee, Rattner’s eighty-year-old neighbor in Berkeley, California. The essay “House of Charm” explores, with delicacy and respect, Lee’s story of aging alone. This powerful and singular body of work won Rattner the Center for Documentary Studies’ 2016 CDS Documentary Essay Prize in Photography, a competition that honors the best documentary photography and writing in alternate years. Rattner’s photo essay was chosen from nearly 220 entries to win the prize. She receives $3,000 and will be featured in Center for Documentary Studies’ print and digital publications.

Click here to learn more about Rattner’s winning essay. Read a followup story on Rattner, Lee, and “House of Charm” that appeared on the New Yorker’s blog Photo Booth.


Jessica Eve Rattner, a social worker by training, picked up a camera for the first time at the age of forty to photograph her family. Then she met Lee and began her first long-term documentary photography project. As Rattner writes, “Most people perceive Lee as ‘crazy,’ someone to be avoided. Few get close enough to learn that while she is indeed eccentric, she is also intelligent, well-read, charming, and self-assured. And perhaps most remarkably, that she has led the life she chooses to—a life for which she is neither apologetic nor ashamed.”

Two Honorable Mentions were awarded to Ofir Barak for “Mea Shearim” and Soohyun Kim for “Guryong Village in Seoul.” Shortlisted finalists included Jeremiah Ariaz, “Trail Riders”; Juan Arredondo, “Born into Conflict”; Jacobia Dahm, “Journey Through the Balkans”; Ayala Gazit, “ Was It a Dream”; Olga Ingurazova, “Wolf Story”; Michael Vince Kim, “The Koreans of Kazakhstan”; Cassandra Klos, “Mars on Earth”; Jiehao Su, “Borderland”; Ka-Man Tse, “Narrow Distances.”

The 2017 prize competition will be awarded for writing. Submissions will be accepted from November 1, 2016, to February 15, 2017. Click here for guidelines.

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    One Response to “Jessica Eve Rattner Wins CDS Prize for “House of Charm” Photo Essay”

    1. Gayla Gordon says:

      Congratulations, Jessica! What an amazing body of work.
      You saw into this woman’s heart, and brought it to light.
      Thank you for sharing your thoughtful & glorious captures
      of seldom viewed interiors, both physical & psychological.

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