Bourke-White, Eisenstaedt, Adams, Cartier-Bresson; some of the greatest photojournalist of all time. To those add the name Spina, Tony Spina. Tony Spina was a photographer for the Detroit Free Press during the hey-day of photojuornalism.
Born in 1914, Spina joined the Free Press in 1944. In 1952, he was appointed Chief Photographer and remained in that position until his retirement in the late 1980s. Spina's photography was brilliant. he brought the city and nation to us each morning, sometimes gritty, sometimes poignant, some times gentle, always important and informative.
Unlike today, during the 50s, 60s and 70s, local papers brought us great phoptojournalism daily. Breaking news was featured thoughout the paper and the back page was reserved for feature photography of the highest quality.
I became a fan of Spina when I was a Free Press carrier in the mid 1960s.
While scouring my bookshelves for something to read one afternoon, I came across a copy of Spina's book On Assignment:Projects in Photojournalism. In the book Spina describes a number of assignments he was tasked by the Free Press. He describes how he went about completeing each assignment including planning, gear, technique and result. It gives a wonderful insight into the life of a press photographer. The volume is long out of print but it can often be found in your public library, especially in the Detroit area.
A couple examples of his work are presented below.
Spina was called into the office early in the morning on July 23, 1967. What some call a riot, and others call a rebellion, broke out along 12th Street in the City of Detroit. Spina describes outfitting himself with a helmet marked PRESS, a pair of goggles, two Nikon F camera bodies and two lenses, 35mm and 85-200mm. He proceeded to walk down the street amongst the chaos, shooting images as he went.
The image above of a Michigan National Guardsman, captures, in Spina's words, "the event's tension and fear." This photo came to symbolize the events of that dark week in July. It ran in papers across the country and around the world. It is a perfect example the power of photojournalism.
While the so-called riots of 67 divided the city, an event just a year and three monthes later brought us back together and Spina brought us images that helped bridge the divide.
In 1968 the Detroit Tigers won the American League pennant and found themselves facing the St. Louis Cardinals in the World Series. Tony Spina was there to capture the action. Down three games to one, the Tigers entered game five for a do-or-die game.
Spina captured this photo of the collision at home plate between St. Louis left fielder Lou Brock and Detroit catcher Bill Freehan. Brock was out and the Tigers went on to win games six and seven taking home the world championship. This is the photo that greeted us in the morning paper.
It was photos like these that brought the world to our door. Unfortunately, news papers no longer hightlight photography as they once did. There are still great photographers travelling the world to bring us images of war, sports and politics; but so often the local touch has been lost since so many photojournalists today are freelancers or working for a wire service. They do great work but we don't know them the way we new the Tony Spinas of the world.
Tony Spina's lifetime of work is archived at the Walter P. Reuther Library at Wayne State University. Many of his photographs can be viewed on the web at www.reuther.wayne.edu/image/tid/540
I wish to thank the Walter P.Reuther Library at WSU for their kind permission to use these photos in my blog.
Photo Rights: All rights, including those of further reproduction and/or publication, are reserved in full by the Walter P. Reuther Library, Wayne State University. Under no circumstances can the user distribute the image(s). All image inquiries are to be forwarded to the Walter P. Reuther Library's Audiovisual Department. Photographic reproductions may be protected by U.S. copyright law (U.S. Title 17). The user is fully responsible for copyright infringement.
- Walter P. Reuther Library, Wayne State University
- Spina, Tony, On Assignment: Projects in Photojournalism Amphoto Books, 1982.
- The Tony Spina Collection at Roland Young Photography