Russell Lee Photograph Collection - Curator's Statement
Russell Lee was born in Ottowa, Illinois in 1903. He came to photography after training as a chemist and a painter and left a legacy of more than 100,000 documentary images from the 1930s to the 1970s. Although best known for his large body of work for the Farm Security Administration from 1936 to 1943, Lee also produced many significant series of images on his own and on other assignments, most of it while he was living in Austin, Texas, his chosen home from 1947 to his death in 1986. [For a more complete biography see
The Study of Spanish-Speaking People Web exhibit.] These and the 35mm images he shot in 1935–36 when he first took up a camera are the work from which the images in Russell Lee Photographs: Images from the Russell Lee Photograph Collection at the Center for American History were selected.
I consider it the greatest privilege of my professional life to serve as curator of the Russell Lee Photograph Collection at the Center for American History. In this role I have been able to both care for a large archive of
priceless images and provide access to them for students, teachers, researchers in various fields and others who may be attracted to his work either for its beauty or for the information it contains or both. The publication of Russell Lee Photographs is the culmination of many years of effort on my part and that of previous curators Larry Landis and Donna Coates, as well as the initial facilitation of the gift by J. B. Colson and Dr. Julie Newton and the ongoing support of Dr. Don Carleton, the Center's director. Everyone who worked on it gave his or her very best because we all believe so strongly in the work of Russell Lee.