Baldwin Lee – A Southern Portrait, 1983-89

Baldwin Lee, A Southern Portrait, 1983-89 (March 2023)

New York, 1983, the photographer Baldwin Lee left his home in Knoxville, Tennessee, and set off on a road trip through the American South. He did not know what his subject would be, but during the trip, he found himself drawn to photographing Black Americans at home, at work and at play, in the street and amid nature. Over the next seven years, Lee made numerous road trips to the South to continue his work, shooting over ten thousand 5 x 4 inch sheets of monochrome negative film. He returned with images so poignant and piercing, the Museum of Modern Art in New York acquired his photographs.

The images by Lee, a first generation Chinese American, showing an intimate portrayal of daily life in the American South, are now considered among the most remarkable in the last half century. His compelling depictions of childhood pleasures, the working life of adults, the bonds among families and communities, reveal the artist’s unique commitment to picturing life in America.

Nearly 40 years after the initial 2,000-mile road trip, the work is finally being seen. A selection was first shown at Howard Greenberg, New York, in September 2022, then Joseph Bellows, California, a couple of months later. The exhibition at David Hill Gallery is the first outside of the United States and features many previously unseen images.

 

About Baldwin Lee

Baldwin Lee (b. 1951) is a Tennessee-based photographer and former university professor of photography. He studied with Minor White at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) and received a Bachelor of Science in 1972. At Yale University, he studied with Walker Evans and was given the opportunity to print Evans’s photographs. Lee received a Master of Fine Arts in 1975. After teaching photography at Yale and the Massachusetts College of Art, he inaugurated the photography program in 1982 at the University of Tennessee, Knoxville, where he was a professor for over three decades. 

 

‘Baldwin Lee is one of those artists who teach us to see’ New York Times

‘A stunningly wrought group of photographs that are artistic to the highest degree.’ The Washington Post

‘Extraordinary pictures from the American South. He is one of the great overlooked luminaries of American picture-making.’ The New Yorker

‘When you make you work, you have to be ferocious’ Baldwin Lee