Russell Lee Photograph Collection, 1938-1942

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Russell Lee Photograph Collection, 1938-1942

MS 347

Collection Summary

Creator: Lee, Russell, 1903-
Collection Name:Russell Lee Photograph Collection,
Inclusive Dates: 1938-1942
Physical Description:1.25 linear feet
Abstract:The collection consists of 71 vintage silver gelatin prints created in conjunction with the Farm Security Administration (FSA) 1938-1942. In addition to the 67 photographs by Russell Lee, the collection includes two prints by Wayne Albee, one by Dorothea Lange, and one by an unknown photographer. Organized into four series: I. Agua Fria Migratory Farm Workers Camp. II. Arizona Part-time Farms, Chandler Unit. III. Casa Grande Valley Farms, Pinal County. IV. Lee Miscellaneous, Unidentified or Non-Lee. arranged by set and photographer.
Collection Number:MS 347
Repository: University of Arizona Libraries, Special Collections
University of Arizona
PO Box 210055
Tucson, AZ 85721-0055
Phone: 520-621-6423
Fax: 520-621-9733

Biographical Note

Russell Lee was born in Ottawa, Illinois on 21 July 1903. His childhood, although of comfortable middle-class rural American heritage, was marred by tragedy. His parents were divorced in 1908, when Lee was five, and his mother was killed in an accident in 1913. Lee was then passed between various relatives and guardians until he returned to Ottawa to be raised by family friends. He became interested in photography in 1931 while married to his first wife, artist Doris Emmrick. She introduced him to art, which he then took up seriously. Dissatisfied with his artistic accomplishments, however, Lee bought himself a camera and began taking pictures. During the early 1930s he took photographs of the destitute and homeless, and of the artistic community in Woodstock, New York, where he lived.

Lee pioneered the "photo essay" approach to photography, producing photographic documentaries. In 1936, he joined Roy Stryker's Resettlement Administration Project, which became the Farm Security Administration (FSA) in 1937. The Project's directive was to use photography to create a social awareness of America's rural problems during the depression years. During this time he traveled away from home for up to nine months at a time, photographing and documenting rural America. He and Doris Emmrick were amicably divorced, and Lee later married Jean Smith, who became his partner.

On behalf of the FSA, Lee traveled to Texas, New Mexico, California, and Arizona. His most famous portrayals are of people pursuing their everyday lives in San Augustine, Texas (1939) and Pie Town, New Mexico (1940). He was a pioneer in the use of flash for indoor photography, capturing indoor images as well as the more usual outdoor scenes.

During World War II, Lee photographed airstrips for the U.S. Air Transport Command in the Far East, but did not remain in the service once the war ended. He spent some time documenting the living and working conditions of coal miners for the Interior Department between 1946 and 1947, and then took on industrial assignments. In 1965, Lee began a new career as an educator in the Department of Art at the University of Texas at Austin. He died on 28 August 1986 in Texas.

Scope and Content Note

The majority of the photographs in this collection were taken at a time when Russell Lee was actively photographing for the FSA. The photographs in this collection cover three projects in Arizona that are typical of those supported by the FSA. They include both indoor and outdoor prints, and portray the goals of FSA to capture everyday reality. The projects are: Agua Fria Migratory Farm Workers Camp; the Arizona Part-Time Farms, Chandler Unit, Maricopa County; and Casa Grande Valley Farms, Pinal County. All of the Lee photographs are dated 1940, with the exception of a print not belonging to the above sets, from Cairns General Hospital, and dated 1942; the Albee prints are dated 1942, the Lange print, 1938, and the unattributed print is also dated 1942.

There are 17 prints in the Agua Fria Migratory Farm Workers Camp set, of varying sizes. They cover official displays of the camp itself to more detailed pictures illustrating aspects of life in the camp, including everyday chores, health facilities, school lunch, and recreational activities.

The Arizona Part-Time Farms, Chandler Unit set has 3 prints. They include two scenes of a building, and one portrait of a member of the unit.

The Casa Grande set is the largest of the three, comprised of 46 prints of varying sizes. The first prints cover the industry of the farm-dairy cattle and hog farming-and these are followed by prints of the camp, children in school, camp officials, examples of a house and other buildings, including the library.

The collection is arranged according to size in two boxes, and within each box according to set. The four prints taken by other photographers are grouped together in one folder.

A detailed list of the photographs in this collection is available in the paper copy of this guide at the University of Arizona Special Collections Reading Room.


This collection is organized into 4 series.





This collection is out of copyright, taken under government contract. It is the responsibility of the user to obtain permission to publish from the owner of the copyright (the institution, the creator of the record, the author or his/her transferees, heirs, legates, or literary executors). The user agrees to indemnify and hold harmless the Arizona Board of Regents for the University of Arizona, its officers, employees, and agents from and against all claims made by any person asserting that he or she is an owner of copyright.

Access Terms

Personal Name(s)
Albee, Wayne.
Lange, Dorothea.

Geographic Name(s)
Agua Fria Migratory Labor Camp -- Arizona -- Maricopa County.
Casa Grande Valley Farms -- Arizona -- Pinal County.
Pinal County (Ariz.) -- Pictorial works.
Arizona Part-Time Farms, Chandler Unit -- Arizona -- Maricopa County.
Maricopa County (Ariz.) -- Pictorial works.
United States. Farm Security Administration.
United States. Resettlement Administration.
United States. Works Progress Administration.

Documentary photography.
Agricultural laborers.
Labor camps.
Photographers -- United States.

Administrative Information

Credit Line

Russell Lee Photograph Collection (MS 347). Special Collections, University of Arizona Libraries.

Container List

Series 1: Agua Fria Migratory Farm Workers Camp, 1940
11 7 prints
12 5 prints
2 5 prints
Series 2: Arizona Part-time Farms, Chandler Unit, 1940
13 3 prints
2 1 print
Series 3: Casa Grande Valley Farms, Pinal County, 1940
14 2 prints
15 4 prints
16 4 prints
17 4 prints
18 4 prints
19 4 prints
110 4 prints
111 5 prints
2 10 prints
Series 4: Lee Miscellaneous/ Unidentified/ Non-Lee, 1938-1942
112 2 prints by Russell Lee
113 2 prints by Wayne Albee, 1 print by Dorothea Lange, 1 print unknown photographer
2 1 print by Rusell Lee