In 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, he made numerous road trips to the South to continue his work. He returned with images so poignant and piercing, the Museum of Modern Art in New York acquired his photographs.
Nearly 40 years after Lee’s initial 2,000-mile road trip, the first solo exhibition of his work in New York will be on view at Howard Greenberg Gallery from September 22 through November 12, 2022. The exhibition Baldwin Lee coincides with the publication of a new monograph of his work by Hunters Point Press in New York in September.
The exhibition at Howard Greenberg Gallery will present 30 photographs selected from the book, from an archive containing nearly 10,000 black-and-white negatives from the seven-year period. The images by Lee, a first generation Chinese American, show an intimate portrayal of daily life in the American South that is considered to be among the most remarkable in the last half century. Most of the work in the exhibition has never before been on public view. 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.
As Lee has written about his Southern experiences: “My profession was announced as I walked down the road by the tripod-mounted, large-format wooden camera perched on my left shoulder. I had long since discovered that walking is by far the most useful way to increase your chances of encountering interesting people and situations. I was making my way along a street in a dilapidated commercial area on the outskirts of downtown Augusta, Georgia, when a beater van slowed as it passed. A slowing vehicle usually means one of two things. Either it is a random innocent event, or you are being checked out, perhaps out of curiosity. It is not every day that people see an Asian man in the black section of town carrying a big camera.” A couple inside the van invites Lee in: “A short time later we arrived at a funeral home. The man and his wife had lost their baby a few days before.” Baldwin was asked to take a photograph of the baby.
The curator Joshua Chuang noted, “The pictures stand apart, not because they are depictions of Black subjects by a first-generation Chinese American, but because they were made by a photographer of rare perception and instinct.”
New Baldwin Lee Book
A new monograph, Baldwin Lee, is published by Hunters Point Press in September 2022. The book focuses on a selection of 88 images edited by the photographer Barney Kulok and includes an interview with Lee by the curator Jessica Bell Brown, and an essay by the writer Casey Gerald.
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.
His work has been exhibited at the Museum of Modern Art, New York; High Museum of Art, Atlanta; Knoxville Museum of Art; The Art Museum, University of Kentucky, Lexington; Museum of Contemporary Art of Georgia, Atlanta; and Ogden Museum of Southern Art, New Orleans. In New York, his photographs are in the permanent collections of the Museum of Modern Art, Morgan Library and Museum, and Museum of the City of New York. His work is also in the collections of National Trust for Historic Preservation, Washington, D.C.; Yale University Art Gallery, New Haven; University of Michigan Museum of Art, Ann Arbor; and University of Kentucky Art Museum, Lexington. He has been honored with fellowships from the John Simon Guggenheim Foundation in 1984 and the National Endowment for the Arts in 1984 and 1990.
Until November 12, 2022
Howard Greenberg Gallery
41 E 57th St 8th floor
New York, NY 10022