Russell Lee (photographer)
July 21, 1903|
Ottawa, Illinois, U.S.A.
|Died||August 28, 1986
Austin, Texas, U.S.A.
Russell Lee (July 21, 1903, Ottawa, Illinois - August 28, 1986, Austin, Texas) was an American photographer and photojournalist, best known for his work for the Farm Security Administration (FSA) and for his technically excellent images documenting the ethnography of various American classes and cultures.
Lee grew up in Ottawa, went to the Culver Military Academy, and received a degree in Chemical Engineering from Lehigh University. He gave up an excellent position as a chemist to become a painter. Originally he used photography as a precursor to his painting, but soon became interested in photography for its own sake, recording the people and places around him. Among his earliest subjects were Pennsylvanian bootleg mining and the Father Divine cult.
By the fall of 1936, Lee was hired for the federally sponsored Farm Security Administration (FSA) photographic documentation project. He joined a team assembled under Roy Stryker, along with Dorothea Lange, Arthur Rothstein and Walker Evans. Stryker provided direction and bureaucratic protection to the group, leaving the photographers free to compile what has been called "the greatest documentary collection which has ever been assembled" in 1973. Lee is responsible for some of the iconic images produced by the FSA, including photographic studies of San Augustine, Texas in 1939, and Pie Town, New Mexico in 1940.
After the FSA was defunded in 1943, Lee served in the Air Transport Command (ATC), during which he took photographs of all the airfield approaches used by the ATC to supply the Armed Forces in World War II. He worked for the United States Department of the Interior (DOI) in 1946 and 1947, helping the agency compile a medical survey in the communities involved in mining bituminous coal. He created over 4,000 photographs of miners and their working conditions in coal mines. In 1946, Lee completed a series of photos focused on a Pentecostal Church of God in a Kentucky coal camp.
While completing the DOI work Lee continued to work under Stryker, producing public relations photographs for Standard Oil of New Jersey. Some 80,000 of those photographs have been donated by Exxon Corporation to the University of Louisville in Kentucky. Lee moved to Austin, Texas in 1947 and became the first instructor of photography at the University of Texas in 1965. In addition to the materials at the University of Louisville, other important collections of Lee's work are at the New Mexico Museum of Art, Wittliff collections, Texas State University and the Dolph Briscoe Center for American History at the University of Texas at Austin.
Selected photographs 
Segregated facilities, 1939
Drawing water from a hand pump, Oklahoma City
Llano de San Juan church, New Mexico, 1940
Serving food in Pie Town
Quilt, Pie Town
Shasta Dam under construction, 1942
Snake handling in a Kentucky church, 1946
- "Russell Lee". The People's America Farm Security Administration Series. Indiana University Art Museum. Retrieved February 13, 2012.
- Hurley, F. Jack. "RUSSELL LEE: "F. Jack Hurley on Russell Lee" (1973)". ASX. Retrieved February 13, 2012.
- Hurley, F. Jack. "Lee, Russell Werner". Texas State Historical Association. Retrieved February 12, 2012.
- Lee, Russell. "Faith healing, speaking in tongues, and taking up serpents in the name of God!". American Ethnography Quasimonthy. American Ethnography. Retrieved February 13, 2012.
- Russell Lee Photographs at The Wittliff Collection, Texas State University, San Marcos, TX
- Russell Lee Photograph Collection at the Dolph Briscoe Center for American History
|Wikimedia Commons has media related to: Russell Lee|
- Biographical Sketch of Lee
- Online Russell Lee collection
- Spanish Speaking People of Texas (Series of Russell Lee Photographs from the Russell Lee Photograph Collection)
- He Was a Camera (Texas Monthly Magazine Article)
- Article about Lee at the University of Texas website
- Flickr Photostream: LOC's Archive of Russell Lee's FSA Photos
- Wittliff Collection Southwestern and Mexican Photography, Texas State University
- Captured: America in Color from 1939-1943, Denver Post PLog, July 26, 2010.
- Brisco - A Guide to the Russell Lee Photograph Collection