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UC Berkeley Press Release

The Ride, by Tristan Spinski A cowboy hangs on to a thousand-pound, dust-kicking bull in Fallon, Nev. (Tristan Spinski photo)

Tristan Spinski wins 2005 Dorothea Lange Fellowship

– Tristan Spinski has received the University of California, Berkeley's Dorothea Lange Fellowship for his series of black-and-white photographs of Nevada rodeos.

"It's very exciting," said Spinski, a second-year student at the UC Berkeley Graduate School of Journalism. He said he plans to use the $4,000 award to pursue his project on American rodeo riders, paying for equipment and travel to rodeos in California, Nevada, Idaho, Utah and Wyoming.

Tristan Spinski

"I want to tell an American, working class story with my photographs - full of action, heartbreak, and all the subtle moments of victory and defeat in between," Spinski wrote in his application for the fellowship. He said he was inspired to document the rodeo by a cowboy who told him told a funny story about losing the tip of his thumb in a roping accident.

"He was tough in a way that I could never be. He was tough in a way that doesn't make a lot of sense," Spinski wrote.

Spinski's images include one of a cowboy wrestling a steer to the ground in a swirl of dust and hooves and leather. Others show the world surrounding the ring: the crowd in the stands, sober rodeo clowns after a hard night's work, and cowboys milling outside the chute.

Spinski's photographs, as well as information on the fellowship, can be viewed online.

The competition, sponsored by the UC Berkeley Office of Public Affairs, is open to UC Berkeley faculty, graduate students, and seniors accepted for graduate work who are from any discipline. The prize is given for outstanding work in documentary photography and a creative plan for future work.

Lange's husband, UC Berkeley economist Paul Taylor, initiated the award in 1981, a decade and a half after the death of his photographer wife. Taylor died in 1984. The couple met during the early 1930s when Taylor assembled a team to study the problems of migrant farm workers in the Dust Bowl during the Great Depression

Tristan Spinski, 26, grew up in Delaware and Ohio. He graduated from University of Delaware in 2001 with an undergraduate degree in English. Last summer, he interned with the Cape Gazette in Lewes, Del., and with the U.S. Army in Fort Irwin, Calif., where he took photos of Army and National Guard soldiers training before they shipped out to Iraq.

Spinski said he initially planned to be a print journalist, specializing in long-form feature writing. An undergraduate assignment first introduced him to the rodeo world, but it was a fluke of class scheduling at UC Berkeley's graduate school that led to photography, he said.

"I tried to get into some writing classes, but they were full - so I wound up with two photography classes in one semester," Spinski explained. After that immersion at UC Berkeley, he was hooked.

For his rodeo series, Spinski used a Nikon F4, and Tri-X 400 and T-Max 3200 film, and shot only with natural light.

In a letter of recommendation, the 2003 winner of the Lange Fellowship called Spinski's photographs "vibrant, gutsy and at times, surprising."

"Tristan is not intimidated by the people he photographs or the rough conditions of the rodeo," wrote Mimi Chakarova, a photography lecturer at the journalism school. "Tristan feels at home no matter where he takes his camera. He relates to the common man, because he does not judge; he radiates respect and willingness to learn from strangers. And he is a damn good photographer."