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Russell Lee, a contemporary of Walker Evans and Dorothea Lange, now emerges from the shadows as one of the greatest photographers of Depression-era America.
The most prolific photographer of the Farm Security Administration (FSA), Russell Lee has never been canonised for his iconic images of mid-century America. With this insightful biography, historian and archivist Mary Jane Appel uncovers Lee’s rebellious life, tracing his journey from blue-blood beginnings to self-taught photographer through the body of work he left behind. Lee crisscrossed America’s back roads more than any photographer of his era, living out of his car from 1936 to 1942. Under the guidance of FSA director Roy Stryker, he captured arresting images of dust storms and punishing floods, and chronicled the Second World War home front and the heyday of small-town America—all the while focusing prophetically on themes like segregation and climate change. With more than 100 images spread throughout, Russell Lee speaks not only to the complexity of a pioneering documentary photographer’s work but to a seminal American moment captured viscerally like never before.