Jim Lee: The Original Wild Child of Fashion Photography

Having become renowned for his fresh and theatrical take on fashion photography, Jim Lee is the internationally known “original wild child of fashion photography.” He took photo shoots out of the rigid studios and placed them in a story context becoming a great pioneer of fashion photography who would change the course of the genre. His photography often seems inspired by his own life, his narratives having a strong relationship with the time they were created within, often encapsulating eras.

Jim Lee, Willy / Midget 2, 1968, Printed Later, Archival Pigment Photograph


Lee’s theatrical approach, comes from his early hopes of becoming a film director:

“I began my photographic career with the hopes of one day becoming a film director. I embraced the camera frame almost as if it were a blank canvas, knowing that in this space, I could create and find a visual equivalent for anything that came to mind.

It didn’t matter that; as a photographer, I was not able to shoot moving images. I would construct my still images dynamically.”

Willy / Midget 2

Very much a product of its time and Lee’s strong visual narrative style, the mysteriously elegant photograph, Willy / Midget 2 from 1968 seems not that far from Swinging London. A woman driven to an atmospheric estate exits a sports car in a brilliant dress assisted by a midget chauffeur. The mystery about what exactly is occurring begs you to “reach beyond the frame” to know more.In fact, Jim Lee shot the photograph for designer Jean Muir who was well known in Swinging London at the time. The woman is Vogue model Maren Greve who is assisted by the three-foot tall acrobat and comedian Willy Shear, while the man driving the 1964 Ferrari was notorious playboy of the period, Julian Moulton. Not only does the photograph truly capture the England of the 1960s from the characters to the dress to the car, but also the actual photograph itself according to Lee was,

“exposed perfectly! What’s particularly good is that it’s the color process of that time, it was a transparency / positive image and the color grading was the best you could get then.”

Willy / Midget 2 still resonates with viewers all of these years later exemplifying his timeless style. A black and white variant of this image is avaiable in Lee’s Arrested Portfolio. In His book arrested, Lee says, “I like to create striking – even shocking – images that make you read the story behind the picture. Images that make you see beyond the frame.” During an interview we asked him why this is important for him? He answered:

“I believe in maximizing the benefit of the frame by going outside of it. I want to make people imagine the image extends beyond the frame. When you have a designated space, the richer you make it, the more you can say in a single image. If someone’s going to look at the picture more than once, you want to make it worthwhile.

I try to think of putting many different elements into a single image, without making it busy or complicated. First I think about the reasons for making the picture. Then I think: How can I layer it? How can I extend it psychologically? How can I create a depth of looking? How can I create atmospheric lighting? What about the design? I am trying to come up with something that you can look at, something that you can cross-examine and challenge, something with merit. Otherwise it’s a waste of my time and other people’s time.”


View additional work by Jim Lee >