Cutting the pies and cakes

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Artist Statement


Russell Lee was known for his ability to enter a community and document every aspect of it, becoming friendly with the locals and capturing honest moments of their daily lives. Unlike his fellow FSA photographers, Lee loved shooting in series rather than single images, feeling that was the only way to truly capture the story of a society.

Lee spent several months in Pie Town, New Mexico, photographing the daily lives of the homesteaders there. In October, there was a large gathering called the Pie Town Fair, during which Lee took several images. In addition to this image of the spread of desserts, there was barbecue, a rodeo, fruit wagons, and an exhibition hall. Lee's penchant for documentation allows the present-day viewer to completely travel back to 1940 Pie Town, New Mexico.


Russell Lee | See All Editions


Russell Lee was an American photographer, widely considered the most prolific staff photographer of the Farm Security Administration (FSA). He focused on communities in his photography, telling the stories of different towns through various series of images.

Lee worked as a chemical engineer before he met his first wife, a painter. Her involvement in the arts sparked his and eventually he began working as a photographer full-time. A year after he bought his first camera, he joined the FSA. During his tenure with the agency, he produced more than 5,000 images. The director, Roy Stryker, described Lee as a "taxonomist": he used his camera to carefully document every element of the scenes he encountered. Because of this, his images were more understated than his colleagues Dorothea Lange and Walker Evans, but when put together, his series of images told powerful stories.

After the Great Depression, Lee and his second wife, Jean Smith, began photographing the removal and confinement of Japanese-American citizens. Lee was deeply troubled by what he saw and believed in the importance of documenting the atrocity. For months, he captured the living and working conditions of the labor camps, resulting in the largest collection of images documenting this aspect of the Japanese American wartime experience. 

Lee left the FSA in the early 1940s, photographing for Air Transport Command and later the Department of the Interior. He later became a professor of photography at the University of Texas–Austin before his death in 1986.

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For our Vintage Editions series, our curators scour historical archives for both timeless classics and heretofore unseen gems. These images come back to life as exhibition-quality prints now available to everyone. As a bonus, purchasing equals patronage: sales from Vintage Editions prints go towards supporting our growing roster of artists.