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News Front Page Cafe: Tristan Spinski, documentary photographer

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Front Page Cafe on The Green

Tristan Spinski transformed the second floor of the Deer Park Tavern, as much with his story of life as a documentary photographer as with his photographs.

If you couldn't be there, you can still listen in, thanks to a partnership with Delaware Public Media. Spinski's talk and audience questions were recorded for an edition of The Green, an open-air meeting place for Delawareans to discuss events, consider issues and share ideas. You can listen to the full evening here.

If you'd like to join us at Front Page Cafe, we'd be delighted to put you on our mailing list. Send your email address to The Journalism Program.  Front Page Cafes are always free and open to the public, and refreshments are always served.

The Green airs at 3 and 7 p.m. Friday and 2 p.m. Sunday on WMPH 91.7 in Wilmington and WDDE 91.1  in Dover. Delaware Public Media is always online at

'Larger truths about the world'
Fishing off the coast of Maine.

​Josh Cook harvests lobsters several miles off the Maine coast. The Atlantic waters off New England are heating up faster than almost anywhere on Earth, leading sealife to migrate to colder waters. Photo/Tristan Spinski.

Tristan Spinski once told an interviewer that people don't remember photographers. People, he said, remember photographs.

But after Spinski spoke at the Front Page Cafe March 19, it was clear that people would remember him and his photographs.

The son of the late Victor Spinski, a UD professor of ceramics, Spinski graduated with a degree in English, planning to be a print journalist specializing in long-form features. He worked odd jobs for a few years before deciding to get his master's degree in journalism at the University of California, Berkeley.

At one point, he found himself in two photography courses because all  the writing courses were full.

His graduate work earned him a photography fellowship that allowed him to pursue an interest he developed thanks to an undergraduate assignment at  UD: the rodeo world.

After leaving Berkeley, Spinski worked as a landscaper, a busboy and an oyster shucker before taking a job as a photographer at the Naples (Fla.) Daily News.

But, Spinski told The Image, Deconstructed, something was missing. He had to to find his own voice.

"I really didn't know how or what that would look like, or will look like," he said. "But I know that I'm in love with photography that exists in the space between art and documentary - photography that embraces and communicates a feeling, an idea, a concept, but within the parameters of nonfiction. This may sound vague or ridiculous, but that's how I feel most of the time: vague and ridiculous. And so the images you see from me now are the results of me taking these first steps to find myself in photography."

Those images have appeared in such publications as The New York Times, Mother Jones, Audubon, Bloomberg, Politico and Rolling Stone. During his stint as a curator of everydayeverywhere, he told an interviewer that he wanted "to get beyond the serendipity of light and moment and get to something more evidentiary that speaks to larger issues."

Tristan Spinski

​Documentary photographer Tristan Spinski uses his camera "to get beyond the serendipity of light and moment and get to something more evidentiary that speaks to larger issues."

Spinski said his work has "everything" to do with his father, whose work as a sculptor constituted statements about mass consumerism, working class know-how and intersections between religion, capitalism and culture.

"My last visit with my father, before his stroke, he said that to be a 'chronicler of the times' was the most important thing he was able to do with his art and his career," he said. "I never thought of his sculptures in that light. And I'd never really thought about my photography that way.

"Of course, I've had plenty of assignments that, in a very narrow scope, show what's happening in the world around us. But I'm talking about the big picture: what is happening in North Dakota, in the Bakken Formation, has enormous economic, socio-cultural and environmental ramifications. And it's not just a shift in priorities for me. It's also my aesthetic and approach. So much of my work up to this point has been clever, at best. I don’t want to be a clever photographer."

And if people remember the photographs, not the photographer, Spinski said, "that’s fine with me. It’s about living a life of intention, and contributing to the larger conversation. Who cares if it’s done in relative anonymity?"

As he told that interviewer, "I’m continually finding myself through my work. And I’m really enjoying my father's voice in my head as I go through this creative journey."

Spinski's Front Page Cafe is co-sponsored by the Center for Science, Ethics & Public Policy, the Faculty Senate Committee on Cultural Activities and Public Events, the Department of Art & Design, and the Department of English.

An oil drilling operation in North Dakota.

​A flame burns off excess fuel at an oil drilling operation in the Bakken formation in western North Dakota. Photo/Tristan Spinski.

Front Page Cafe

Time: 5:30  p.m.
: Monday, March 19
Place: Upstairs at the Deer Park Tavern, 108 Main St., Newark

The Spinski folder

Co-founder of GRAIN, photography collective

Interviews: Re-Picture; The Image, Deconstructed

Selected work: Johnston Atoll, Audubon; Endangered species mausoleum, The New York Times; The Codfather, Mother Jones

Gallery show: Knauer Gallery, Swope Music Building, West Chester University. Monday-Friday, 9 a.m.-4 p.m., March 12-April 6

Instagram: @tspinski

Story published on 2/28/2018 ; last modified on
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Documentary photographer Tristan Spinski brings his conversation about the landscape and people to Front Page Cafe on March 19.

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Front Page Cafe: Tristan Spinski, documentary photographer
  • The Journalism Program
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  • University of Delaware
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