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Russell Lee Photograph Collection - Excerpt from Forward

Excerpt from the Foreword by John Szarkowski

A critic whose name has slipped the bonds of memory once referred to Russell Lee as a man who had never seen a photograph he didn't like. It seems unlikely that the critic meant this as a compliment. Nevertheless, even those of us who count ourselves among Lee's unstinting admirers might admit that he or she was, if not quite onto something, at least in the general neighborhood of something that made Lee extraordinary.

Russell Lee's sense of the possibilities of photography was almost as generous, open, and democratic as photography itself. His appetite as a spectator was as wide as the prairie, and his sympathy for his fellows appeared seamless. It is not surprising that a conventional critic might regard all this ungrudging liberality as incompatible with artistic standards. And it is doubtless true that a generous heart can lead an artist into trouble, just as a mean and calculating heart can—both

conditions tending to lead the artist to prejudge the issue, in the first case for the sake of wanting to be helpful and in the second for the sake of neatness. But there is no art without risk, and the risk of large-heartedness is for some worth taking, for it encourages the thought that there is no soil too poor for art to grow in, and also the thought that there are no subjects so insignificant that they might not be enlarged by art. Neither proposition is necessarily true, but an idea need not be true to be useful.

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