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HomeContents > People > Photographers > Russell Lee

Dates:  1903, 21 July - 1986, 28 August
Born:  US, IL, Ottawa
Active:  US
American documentary photographer - best known for his 1936 - 1942 work for the Farm Security Administration (FSA).

Preparing biographies

Biography provided by Focal Press 
Lee began his study of photography in 1935, ten years after earning a degree from Lehigh University (Pennsylvania) in chemical engineering. Photography, he thought, would aid his ability as a painter studying in San Francisco and at the Woodstock art colony (New York) in the early 1930s. His career took an abrupt shift when he was invited by Roy Stryker to join the government’s Historical Section of the Farm Security Administration (FSA). Lee worked from 1936 to 1943 as a prolific photographer in the FSA combining his keen sense of documentary with an engineer’s precise mastery of lighting (especially flash photography). Stryker called him a "taxonomist with a camera." Besides making more FSA negatives than any other photographer, Lee was one of the first to utilize new color photography materials in his recording of people and events in Pie Town, New Mexico. After leaving the FSA, Lee continued to work for various government agencies until 1947 when he was hired by Standard Oil of New Jersey. His industrial images were printed in Fortune and in The New York Times. A second career spanned the years 1956–1973 while Lee was on the teaching faculty of the University of Missouri, and later at the University of Texas at Austin. Despite an education in engineering, Lee’s images and teachings never underplayed the role of photography as an objective witness to call attention to the pride and prejudice that characterized society in the mid-1900s. 
(Author: Ken White - Rochester Institute of Technology) 
Michael Peres (Editor-in-Chief), 2007, Focal Encyclopedia of Photography, 4th edition, (Focal Press) [ISBN-10: 0240807405, ISBN-13: 978-0240807409] 
(Used with permission) 

Further research

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Unidentified photographer
Russell Lee 
1942 (ca)
Family history 
If you are related to this photographer and interested in tracking down your extended family we can place a note here for you to help. It is free and you would be amazed who gets in touch.

Visual indexes

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Internet biographies

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Wikipedia has a biography of this photographer. Go to website
Getty Research, Los Angeles, USA has an ULAN (Union List of Artists Names Online) entry for this photographer. This is useful for checking names and they frequently provide a brief biography. Go to website
Grove Art Online ( has a biography of this artist. 
[NOTE: This is a subscription service and you will need to pay an annual fee to access the content.]
 Go to website

Internet resources

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Russell Lee ... 

Printed biographies

The following books are useful starting points to obtain brief biographies but they are not substitutes for the monographs on individual photographers.

• Auer, Michele & Michel 1985 Encyclopedie Internationale Des Photographes de 1839 a Nos Jours / Photographers Encylopaedia International 1839 to the present (Hermance, Editions Camera Obscura) 2 volumes [A classic reference work for biographical information on photographers.] 
• Evans, Martin Marix (Executive ed.) 1995 Contemporary Photographers [Third Edition] (St. James Press - An International Thomson Publishing Company) [Expensive reference work but highly informative.] 
• Lenman, Robin (ed.) 2005 The Oxford Companion to the Photograph (Oxford: Oxford University Press)  [Includes a short biography on Russell Lee.] 
• Witkin, Lee D. and Barbara London 1979 The Photograph Collector’s Guide (London: Secker and Warburg) p.181 [Long out of print but an essential reference work - the good news is that a new edition is in preparation.] 

Useful printed stuff

If there is an analysis of a single photograph or a useful self portrait I will highlight it here.

• Szarkowski, John 1973 Looking at Photographs: 100 Pictures from the Collection of The Museum of Modern Art (New York: The Museum of Modern Art) p.134 [Analyzes a single photograph by Russell Lee.] 


Photographic collections are a useful means of examining large numbers of photographs by a single photographer on-line. 

In the 1990 survey of 535 American photographic collections Russell Lee was represented in 54 of the collections. Source: Andrew H. Eskind & Greg Drake (eds.) 1990 Index to American Photographic Collections [Second Enlarged Edition] (Boston, Massachusetts: G.K. Hall & Co.) 
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