Jim Lee, The Priest, 2019, Archival Pigment Photograph

With the explosion of popular culture in the 1960’s and its profound influence on the arts as well as improvements in lightweight cameras, and faster speed film, fashion photographers were liberated from traditional studio-bound work. Photographers began to experiment with street and environmental locations for fashion-based photography, creating work that displayed cinematic qualities and underlying narratives. Jim Lee, dubbed “the original wild child of fashion photography,” has been making unique, break-away photography for the past 40 years. Lee’s strong emphasis on creative scenarios and experimentation with asymmetrical compositions, the use of bold color, and the interpersonal relationships between the individuals in the frame created a novel approach towards fashion photography. Jim Lee’s constant aim to “reach beyond the frame” expanded the aesthetic of fashion photography and helped transcend fashion’s commercial aesthetic to create potent expressions of visual art.

“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.”

Born in 1945, Jim Lee had an unconventional upbringing. Lee’s parents worked for the British military intelligence service, MI5, and he was also a descendant of the Royal family, details of his life Lee would only find out later in his teenage years. Not conforming to the stifling nature of secrecy and privilege, Jim Lee pursued his childhood fantasy, the more adventurous lifestyle of a cowboy, but too young to enter America; Lee headed for the Outback in Australia instead. In Australia, Jim Lee would begin his photographic practice, trading boarding and lodging for developing negatives in the darkroom with a local photographer. After making a name for himself covering The Beatles and the Rolling Stones, Jim Lee would return to London and begin his incursion into fashion photography. Jim Lee first gained acclaim and recognition as a fashion photographer in London in the “Swinging Sixties,” working with a young editor’s assistant, Anna Wintour, on numerous fashion shoots. Lee would go on to shoot a feature-length film with Alan Bates, collaborate with influential designers like Yves Saint Laurent and Gianni Versace, and direct over 200 significant commercials.

In one of his most recent works, The Priest, Jim Lee captures a provocative moment; a priest acts on impulse and removes his collar as he watches a woman pass him by. The model walks by either oblivious to the priest or in a game of cat and mouse, moving sultrily past him. In either case, the priest does a double-take, removing his clerical collar so as not to violate that which is stricken from his uniform. Without the collar, he is free to pursue his passion. In the construction of the image, the strong, geometric lines of the background and the stark shadows emanating from the subjects give dimensionality to the picture. The drab, architectural backdrop, acts as a neutral background, in turn highlighting the protagonists of the image as the main focus of the composition. Note that she is in full light, confident in her demeanor, while the priest is half in light and half in the dark, less sure of himself; A priest taking off his collar, adds to the provocative nature of the image. Jim Lee’s masterful art direction imbues the photograph with context, leaving the viewer to want to create the remainder of the storyline. Lee’s ability to visualize the friction between power, morality, and desire are characteristic of his oeuvre.

Over three decades after his initial success in the photography scene, Jim Lee returns with new and original ideas amplified by his artistic vigor. Lee’s mastery of creating a story with a single shot is expertly presented through deliberately provocative images. An innovator of fashion photography, Lee’s photographs depict situations that are simultaneously realistic and symbolic of the human experience, often with undercurrents of passion and desire. Jim Lee’s masterful vision captures its subjects to create a powerful allure. Lee’s constructed narratives are influenced by cinematography, as well as his many commercial tv campaigns. With an adept eye for composition and glamour in photography, Lee’s images place desire in the service of consumption, while the subject’s eyes are turned away from the lens, a voyeuristic study of human longing is created. Jim Lee’s photographs ultimately represent a “constructed” reality, believable for the audience to be a captivating, tongue-in-cheek interaction.

 

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