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HomeContents > People > Photographers > Wellington Lee

Born: Wellington Chung-Hai Lee 
Dates:  1918, 12 May - 2001, 31 May
Born:  China, Kwantung
Died:  US, NY, New York City

Preparing biographies

Approved biography for Wellington Lee
(Courtesy of Christian Peterson)

Lee was extremely active in camera-club circles for half a century, beginning around 1940. His creative work consisted primarily of figure studies, cityscapes, and high-contrast color images. After World War II, he worked professionally in New York.
Wellington Chung-Hsi Lee was born to U.S. citizens in Kwantung, China, on May 12, 1918. He moved to the United States in 1935 and settled in New York. A few years later, he made his first photographs, with a small camera in Central Park. He graduated in 1943 from what is now the New York School of Art and Design with a degree in photography. During World War II, he was a military photographer, receiving a commendation for his work. Following the war, he worked for the Jons Fashion Studio in New York for a few years, and in 1950 established his own portrait business. Situated in Chinatown, the Wellington Lee Studio operated for over twenty-five years, until the owner retired in 1977.
Lee’s pictorial involvement began shortly before World War II and continued into the 1990s. During this period, he was ranked in the top ten exhibitors of the world more than fifty times, showing a total of 14,000 monochrome and color prints and color and stereo slides. Solo exhibitions of his photographs were seen at the Smithsonian Institution in 1955 and at hundreds of camera clubs from New York to Asia. Beginning with an award at the 1939 New York World’s Fair, he received more than a thousand trophies, plaques, medals, and other citations for his photographic work at international salons and contests. In 1948, he wonPopular Photography’s first international competition, subsequently using the $5,000 grand prize to open his portrait studio.
Lee involved himself deeply with numerous photographic organizations. He founded and served as president of both the China Photographic Society (New York) in 1948, and the Photographic Society of New York in 1950. Beginning in 1952, he served for forty years as chairman of various committees for the Photographic Society of America. This group and England’s Royal Photographic Society both awarded him fellowship status in the mid-1950s. In addition, more than fifty clubs worldwide gave him honorary fellowships and memberships. He judged many of the major salons in this country, including Pittsburgh, Newark, Baltimore, Rochester, Boston, Springfield, and New York.
Lee produced three large bodies of creative work. His New York cityscapes pictured buildings, sometimes under construction. His high-contrast work, depicting a variety of subjects, usually took the form of "Addacolor" prints, a process he invented that turned black-and-white negatives into color images resembling woodcut prints with bas-relief effects. His figure studies were his most inventive pieces; they usually featured attractive female subjects (both Caucasian and Asian) surrounded by fantasy environments of painted backdrops, oversize props, and cut paper. These highly fabricated pictures incorporate strong design elements suggestive of Asian advertising and serve as entertaining period pieces from the 1950s and 1960s.
Lee remained photographically active far beyond the end of late pictorialism in the 1950s. In 1961, he created his own annual Wellington Lee Award to recognize clubs and organizations that promoted creative photography. Later in the decade, he published Artistic Photography, an intriguing monograph of his own work. And in 1989, he wrote a small handbook on photography in which he explained various techniques, including his "Addacolor" process. Wellington Lee died in New York, on May 31, 2001. 
Christian A. Peterson Pictorial Photography at the Minneapolis Institute of Arts (Christian A. Peterson: Privately printed, 2012) 
This biography is courtesy and copyright of Christian Peterson and is included here with permission. 
Date last updated: 1 June 2013. 
We welcome institutions and scholars willing to test the sharing of biographies for the benefit of the photo-history community. The biography above is a part of this trial.
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