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Photojournalism: Russell Lee

Russell Lee taking a photograph of boys gathered around a table.
Russell Lee - Photographer unknown e_rl_0264

Documentary photographer Russell Lee was born in Illinois in 1903. Trained as a chemical engineer and a painter, he took his first photographs in 1935. He worked for the Farm Security Administration from 1936 to 1942 and remained active in the field of documentary photography until 1977. This later work included aerial surveys for the Air Transport Command and military life during World War II, his controversial study of Spanish-speaking people in Texas, and his political work for the Texas Observer. Lee, who enjoyed a reputation for technical excellence and sensitivity to his subjects, moved to Austin, Texas, in 1947. From 1965 to 1973 he taught photography at the University of Texas. Although he often traveled as a freelance photographer and on assignment for magazines, corporations, the federal government, and the University of Texas, Austin remained his home and Texas was a major focus of his work until his death in 1986.

Donated to the Briscoe Center in 1986 by Lee, the collection consists primarily of his work after he left the federal government. Major series include a study of Spanish-speaking people of Texas (1949–1952), the Italy portfolio (1960), documentation of the campaigns of Senator Ralph Yarborough of Texas, and other community activities and industrial operations. In 2007, the University of Texas Press published Russell Lee Photographs, a major retrospective of his work produced by the Briscoe Center.

Finding aid for the Russell Lee Photograph Collection

Online Exhibits:

Russell Lee Photograph Collection

Study of Spanish Speaking People of Texas
Russell Lee Photographs

Photojournalism (Collection Strength)
News Media History (Collection Strength)