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Russell Lee’s FSA photography in New Mexico (Governor’s Gallery)

On display through Apr 12, 2019 at the New Mexico Museum of Art

Photographer Russell Lee created some of his finest work while traveling the United States for the Farm Security Administration. Among the communities he documented in New Mexico were Hobbs, Holman, Peñasco, Taos, Wagon Mound, and Quemado.  Lee’s defining work as a documentary photographer was created in Pie Town New Mexico in 1940.

Photography was not the primary purpose of the FSA but its outstanding photography program is what the agency is best known and remembered for today. The artists Stryker hired became some of the most iconic of documentary photographers including Walker Evans, Dorothea Lange, Russell Lee, Arthur Rothstein, Marion Post Wolcott and Gordon Parks.  In many ways, the FSA program defined American documentary photography and encouraged the development and popularity of the photo essay in publications like Life and Look magazine.

Russell Lee was born in Ottawa, Illinois in 1903. He trained and worked as a chemical engineer for years before studying to be become a painter. He borrowed a camera to develop his drawing skills and soon both his technical background and creative interests found a perfect tool of communication in the camera. Shortly after he was hired by Stryker to work for the FSA and was assigned to document the West and Midwest. While working for the FSA, Lee produced some of the finest work of his career including extensive photo essays on the Spanish speaking people of Texas and the rural homesteaders in Pie Town, New Mexico.

The photographs in the exhibition are shown with their descriptive captions and are all drawn from the New Mexico Museum of Art’s New Mexico Farm Security Administration Collection.

Commissioned by the federal government, the photographs and negatives taken for the Farm Security Administration and the Office of War Information are stored and maintained by the Library of Congress. Anyone can view the approximately 175,000 black-and-white images in the Farm Security Administration/ Office of War Information collection on the Library of Congress website.

Also on exhibit at the New Mexico Museum of Art

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