Russell Lee (1903-1986)


Lee grew up in Ottawa and went to the Culver Military Academy for high school. He studied in Pennsylvania, where he 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 during the Great Depression, Lee was hired for the federally sponsored Farm Security Administration photographic documentation project of the Franklin D. Roosevelt administration. 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 in 1973 was described as "the greatest documentary collection which has ever been assembled." Lee created 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. Over the spring and summer of 1942, Lee was one of several government photographers to document the eviction of Japanese Americans from the West Coast, producing over 600 images of families waiting to be removed and their later life in various detention facilities.

After the FSA was defunded in 1943, Lee served in the Air Transport Command 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 DOI in 1946 and 1947, helping the agency compile a medical survey in the communities involved in mining bituminous coal. conditions in coal mines.

In 1947 Lee moved to Austin, Texas and continued photography. In 1965 he became the first instructor of photography in 1965 at the University of Texas.

Scene on 7th Avenue near 38th Street, New York City 1936 | B&W photo | 153.14.12
Hollywood, California. Gasoline filling station at night 1942 | B&W photo | 152.14.12
Migrant cane chair maker & wife in front of their automobile home, near Paradise, LA 1938 | photo | 151.14.12
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