Photographer Russell Lee (1903-1986) traveled the United States taking photos of rural life for the Farm Security Administration from 1936-1943.
One night in 1939 or ’40 he photographed a dance in a house in rural Oklahoma. Here’s what he saw.
About Photographer Russell Lee
The Farm Security Administration — and later the Office of War Information — hired photographers who took over 175,000 black-and-white photos and just 1,600 color photos. These photos capture life in the United States and its territories, and mostly focus on rural living and farm workers along with some activity relating to World War II.
Although he earned a chemical engineering degree and became a chemist and later a painter, Russell Lee became interested in documentary photography. In autumn 1936, the Farm Security Administration hired him — along with photographers such as Dorothea Lange, Walker Evans and Arthur Rothstein — to document Great Depression-era life and work. He traveled extensively throughout the United States, producing many black-and-white photos as well as some in color. In 1942, Lee was one of several government photographers to capture the eviction of Japanese Americans from the West Coast to internment camps. He also took photos of wartime airfields. In 1946 and 1947 he extensively documented the working lives and conditions of coal miners. He went on to become the University of Texas’ first instructor of photography and the university’s Briscoe Center is a good resource on Lee’s life and work.
The dance photos above are reproduced from glass slides and can be found at the Library of Congress.