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Jim Lee, unorthodox fashion photographer


An exhibition on view in Zurich, Switzerland, currently features the work of British fashion photographer Jim Lee.


Photographer and filmmaker Jim Lee has always kept an ear to the ground – mindful of the zeitgeist and anticipating the trends. But, as with many artists, it is only the benefit of hindsight that reveals some of the most remarkable aspects of his work.

As a fashion photographer in the sixties and seventies, Jim Lee was at the centre of the fashion world, but unlike his contemporaries, he quickly tuned in to the revolutionary changes underway in gender politics. He understood early that women would no longer only have supporting roles in narratives about men. So, rather than treating women like mere mannequins or objects for male desire, Jim made the women the protagonists of their own stories.

The model in the 1974 Umbrella series, which Jim Lee shot for Anna Wintour when she was at Harper’s & Queen, exemplifies the Jim Lee woman – a woman in charge of her own destiny, assertive and self-assured.

Jim Lee was also ahead of his time in the way he worked as a fashion photographer. The current trend of fashion houses producing short videos for online ad campaigns, is strongly foreshadowed in his photography of the sixties and seventies. Jim Lee wanted to tell stories with a beginning, a middle and an end and did so by letting a narrative play out over a series of images. His approach was more that of auteur filmmaker rather than photographer.

His unorthodox approach did not always work well with more conservative fashion magazines, but, at Harper’s & Queen he found an editorial board willing to take risks. Harper’s allowed Jim to indulge his cinematic vision, letting him work on location and stage elaborate film-like sets.

Jim Lee has stayed true to this vision of photography till this day and captivating contemporary works such as the 2002 Feather series and the 2005 River Story series, bear testimony to Jim’s mastery of storytelling and his vision of strong woman.

Jim Lee’s photography is currently featured in a retrospective at Zurich-based Kate Vass Galerie. Its owner and director discovered Jim’s photography during a visit to Moscow’s Multimedia Art Museum in 2013, and continued to follow his shows around the world.

When Kate Vassilieva decided to open her own gallery earlier this year, she approached Jim Lee to see if he would agree to a retrospective for her opening show. They worked together to put on an ambitious show with over 25 images that span the entirety of Jim Lee’s career. It not only shows the iconic works already in museum collections, but also images cherished by Jim that have never before been exhibited. Jim Lee’s retrospective, Terrains of the Body, continues until January 20, 2018.

Katerina Vasilieva


Jim Lee, Terrains of the Body
October 20, 2017 to January 20, 2018
Kate Vass Galerie
Feldeggstrasse 88
8008 Zürich

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