In 1983, 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. “I had no agenda, no plan,” he told The New Yorker. “I photographed everything: landscapes, architecture, close-ups, still lifes, night pictures, people, old, young, white, black, poor, rich. I just wanted to see.” 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.
The images by Lee, a first generation Chinese American now 71 years old, show an intimate portrayal of daily life in the American South that is considered among the most remarkable in the last half century. Most of the work has not been on public view before 2022. 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. Along the way, however, he became attuned to the colossal racial injustice still rampant in the American South and photographed Black Southerners living their everyday lives against the background of poverty.
Nearly 40 years after Lee’s initial 2,000-mile road trip, his work is finally being seen. First shown at Howard Greenberg in New York in September 2022, then Joseph Bellows in California a couple of months later and now at David Hill Gallery, London.