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Russell Lee Photograph Collection - Excerpt from Introduction - Page 7

Excerpt from "There Was A Job To Do" The Photographic Career of Russell Lee by J. B. Colson

Neither Lange nor Evans worked with flash. Lee, however, knowing that life didn't always happen outside or in good light, added a press camera with flash to his equipment. Many of his noted FSA pictures demonstrate his direct flash technique, with its telling clarity and sharp shadows. Otherwise he used 35 mm and occasionally a view camera, which required careful setup

on a tripod. At the FSA Lee grew into a fully competent professional documentary photographer who could be counted on to satisfy any assignment. Beyond that, he got photographs of outstanding visual power and insight often enough to earn his place in the history of photography. In his FSA photography we typically see Lee's empathy for people who were having

a hard time and his respect for them, but he could also see irony, as in "Choice Farm Land for Sale," and he could be critical, as in the picture of a fat man relaxing on a porch while his haggard wife struggles with laundry. He could also see everyday life with a touch of good-natured humor. Lee was often asked how he persuaded so many strangers to let him and his cameras into their lives. He did this by speaking candidly to them:

Young man serving ice cream at a soda fountain. 1939.

An upbeat FSA photograph that depends on flash both to provide light and to freeze the action of the airborne scoop of ice cream. 1939.

For sale sign on acreage. 1937.

The details of how a verbal sign looks as well as what it says have been a standard source of information and commentary for documentary photographers. Here there is a double irony in the unsuitable nature of the land for farming and the sheer beauty of Lee's rendition of tone and texture. FSA, 1937.