Russell Lee Portraits
160 Pages, 9.81 x 9.81 in, 140 b&w photos
Sales Date: March 5, 2024
More than 100 powerful images by noted photographer Russell Lee that document the working conditions and lives of coal mining communities in the postwar United States; publication coincides with an exhibition at the National Archives in Washington, DC.
In 1946 the Truman administration made a promise to striking coal miners: as part of a deal to resume work, the government would sponsor a nationwide survey of health and labor conditions in mining camps. One instrumental member of the survey team was photographer Russell Lee. Lee had made his name during the Depression, when, alongside Dorothea Lange and Walker Evans, he used his camera to document agrarian life for the Farm Security Administration (FSA). Now he trained his lens on miners and their families to show their difficult circumstances despite their essential contributions to the nation's first wave of postwar growth.
American Coal draws from the thousands of photographs that Lee made for the survey—also on view in the US National Archives and Records Administration’s exhibition Power & Light—and includes his original, detailed captions as well as an essay by biographer Mary Jane Appel and historian Douglas Brinkley. They place his work in context and illuminate how Lee helped win improved conditions for his subjects through vivid images that captured an array of miners and their communities at work and at play, at church and in beauty pageants, in moments of joy and struggle, ultimately revealing to their fellow Americans the humanity and resilience of these underrecognized workers.
After World War II ended Russell Lee aimed his lens at U.S. coal miners—at work, at home with family, and in leisure pursuits. American Coal offers an unflinching portrait of an industry that operated far from view, a closed society of company-owned mines and stores, of often segregated towns and housing. Lee’s warm, personal images struck a deep chord, propelling a remarkable healthcare and pension movement for coal miners that continues to this day. American Coal provides a new generation of viewers with a fresh opportunity to witness Russell Lee’s accomplishment, each photograph beautifully presented with its original caption. ~Earl Dotter, photojournalist, author of The Quiet Sickness: A Photographic Chronicle of Hazardous Work in America
- “The Promise: The Coal Mines Administration Photographs of Russell Lee” by Mary Jane Appel and Douglas Brinkley
- A Note about the Captions
- List of Mines
- Image Credits
The publication of American Coal was made possible by the support of the Bill and Alice Wright Photography Endowment.