What’s In A Name?: Four Photographers Sharing A Surname

“What’s in a name? That which we call a rose by any other name would smell as sweet.”—Romeo and Juliet (II, ii, 1-2)

In January I featured the work of Thomas Lee (www.thomasleephoto.com) in this column and while researching for this month, I came across the outstanding work of Ralph Lee. This coincidence got me to thinking: why not have an entire Web Profiles featuring photographers named “Lee,” a surname derived from Old English leah or meadow. The most interesting part of my search was discovering that these photographers are a diverse lot, stylistically and geographically, even though they all have the same surname. I’ve introduced them here in alphabetical order with Jeff Lee last as the custom for “Blog-of-the-Month.”

Anybody who thinks that photojournalism is dead needs to take a look at the sensitive and moving work of James J. Lee. As a former staff photographer for Army Times, a Gannett publication covering aspects of military and defense industries, he made three trips to Iraq while embedded with the US Army. (Advisory: Violent Content.) Yet rather than just harsh images of conflict, many of Lee’s Iraq images show the bravery and kindness of our young soldiers and I must confess to viewing some of these photographs with tears in my eyes. No matter what your political views may be, you need to see these photographs that combine a photojournalist’s eye with utmost compassion for all of his subjects.

Images in each of Lee’s six portfolios can be viewed as a slide show and moving your mouse to the top drops down a translucent panel with a caption describing the action. In The Prettiest Girl photo essay, Lee introduces us to a 20-month-old child with Treacher Collins Syndrome, a condition that left her without 40 percent of her facial structure. Here, far from the battlefield, Lee takes us inside this little girl’s world and the loving people surrounding her. This is the kind of touching black-and-white imagery that used to appear in People magazine before it became a paparazzi showcase. Yet James J. Lee is far from a one-note photographer. All you have to do is look into his Singles portfolio to see a wide spectrum of photographs made during his “journey as a photojournalist” to view images of warmth, drama, and even a little humor.

© James J. Lee/Gannett Govt. Media


Justin Lee is a sixth-generation Californian and a young photographer with an amazing amount of talent as can be seen in the images populating the nine galleries in this beautifully designed site. He makes it clear that he photographs people but these are not your father’s portraits. Lee imbues his black-and-white or color portraits with a cinematic quality that transcends the traditional location or environmental portrait genre. This style carries over into his weddings as well, blending an elegant formal yet high fashion look with a natural unposed (and posed) style that is refreshingly “today.” Yet occasionally, in some of his beach weddings, you’ll see dramatic, romantic glimpses that were made popular by the late Rocky Gunn.

You’ll know where that fashion look comes from when peeking into his Editorial gallery that features brilliantly composed and executed images. (Advisory: Partial Nudity.) Wedding and portrait photographers can learn a lot from a section called The Buzz that features (mostly) handwritten “thank you” notes from clients combined with the images they’re talking about. Combining a gallery with marketing is a brilliant touch, as are all of the stunning images used to illustrate The Buzz. Topping it off is a Behind the Scenes gallery showing Lee at work. Again he’s taking portrait and wedding photographers to school showing how production shots can be a marketing tool. I love this website and loved Justin Lee’s expressive photography and think you will, too.

© Justin Lee

The Reader’s Site-of-the-Month belongs to Ralph Lee who’s been a Shutterbug reader for 15 years. Lee is a creative director and long-time photographer, mostly for automotive clients such as GM, Mercedes, BMW, Kia, and Mazda, but he’s not the typical shooter, since he “shoots on the streets for them” while also doing occasional special effects/environmental assignments. His photographic website offers two main galleries: Studio Work and Location Work.

In Studio Work you’ll find everything from cars (a Citroen 2CV, no less) to fashion items, such as purses and shoes, to robots, each one crafted with infinitesimal care that these kinds of clients and subjects demand. Clicking on analog-looking (it reminds me of a shutter release) forward and back buttons lets you navigate through the galleries. When I clicked on Location Work I also must have kicked on the Gee-Whiz button because I was astonished (no kidding) by the images populating this gallery. These are sophisticated images of Mercedes-Benz sports cars juxtaposed next to photographs of retro-looking rockets that recall more Georges Méliès than NASA. There are more artfully captured cars but also people, architecture, and flying bagels! Before leaving be sure to go to the site’s portal (www.arsnovainc.com) and take a look at the breadth of Ralph Lee’s creative reach. It’s pretty amazing and created by a photographer with an impeccable sense of design and a craftsman’s attention to detail bringing all of these unlikely subjects to life.

© Ralph Lee

This month’s Blog-of-the-Month is from Jeff Lee who began his photographic career as a precocious 8 year old who pilfered his Dad’s Nikon FM and continues to steal moments in time. The blog’s splash page is a montage of recent images and placing your mouse over a photograph pops up a ghosted caption that doesn’t intrude into the image. Clicking the photo opens large-enough-to-appreciate (cue: applause) images that include caption information along with space to add your comments. Each page has forward and back arrows for navigation along with teasers of what those photographs might be.

The blog makes excellent use of the AutoFocus 2.0 (http://fthrwght.com/autofocus) WordPress theme. Lee’s images range from the haunted (and haunted looking) “Irene,” showing an empty NJ Transit platform, to an equally enigmatic image called “True Inspiration,” showing people outside the Hayden Planetarium at night, to the Escher-like image of the George Peabody Library in Baltimore. People seldom appear in Lee’s artistic yet essentially photojournalistic images but when they do they’re part of the scene, often hidden, remaining an important part of the composition but not the real subject. In this way the photograph might be really about something else and makes the viewer want to look deeper and along the way perhaps discover something about themselves. Jeff Lee co-founded the blur gallery (www.blurgallery.com), a small, talented group of photographers, filmmakers, and graphic designers serving New York and New Jersey. Give that website a visit as well.

© Jeff Lee