Russell Lee, Depression-Era Photographer, Dead at 83
Aug. 30, 1986
AUSTIN, Texas (AP) _ Russell Lee, whose photographs documented Depression-era farm life, the American oil industry and Appalachian coal fields, has died at the age of 83.
Lee, who had lived in Austin since 1947, died at his home Thursday.
Although he didn't purchase his first camera until age 32, Lee won wide acclaim for his photographic work during a 40-year career. He also taught the first photography courses in the University of Texas art department.
A 1925 chemical engineering graduate of Lehigh University, Lee later trained as a painter. He purchased his first camera in 1935 and quickly gave up painting.
In 1936, Lee became a major participant in the federal Farm Security Administration's project to photograph the impact of the Depression on farms and small towns in America.
During that time, he photographed tenant farmers in Indiana, flooding in the Ohio and Mississippi River valleys, and the poor in Minnesota.
The Farm Security Administration, forerunner of today's Farmers Home Administration, used some of the giants of American photography for the Depression effort, including Walker Evans, Carl Mydans and Dorothea Lange.
Some of his photographs are in the Museum of Modern Art in New York.
Lee also won acclaim for a project sponsored by the Standard Oil Company of New Jersey which chronicled the impact of the oil industry on American life.
During World War II, he took part in photographic mapping of transport routes and airstrips in the Caribbean, South America, Africa, the Middle East and Asia for the U.S. Air Transport Command.
In 1946, Lee did photography for the Federal Coal Mine Administration's health and safety study of the bituminous coal fields in Appalachia.
''There's a picture wherever you go,'' Lee once said. ''If I saw a good picture, I'd take it. They didn't even know I was there for awhile, really, people just get intent.''
After moving to Austin, Lee recorded life in the Southwest during a time of rapid change. His photos included 1950s political rallies and a reunion of old cowboys in the Texas Panhandle.
In 1965, Lee joined the University of Texas faculty, teaching until 1973.
On Friday, the university announced that Lee had donated a large collection of photographs, negatives and slides to the school's Barker Texas History Center.
Lee is survived by his wife, Jean. Funeral services were pending.