Lee Crum is a self taught fine-art photographer known primarily for making arresting portraits of people that he describes as polysemantic images.
Crum began working as a photojournalist for a local newspaper while attending the University of Arkansas in 1975. Soon after his career would bring him to New Orleans. The cast of characters living in his newly adopted city inspired him to produce more deliberate portraits in the vein of Mike Disfarmer, the famed Arkansas photographer who Crum greatly admired. In 1983, Crum picked up a used Hasselblad camera and immediately began shooting musicians, characters and the hoi polloi of New Orleans. Gaining national attention with his photographs of unusual subjects, Crum became an in demand photographer for magazines like Esquire, Rolling Stone, Life, and many others.Soon major advertising campaigns for the world’s largest brands were being offered and these commissions turned into a twenty year odyssey of non-stop travel and shooting.
Personal work however, would remain the driving force in Crum’s career. Between commissions he continued to document most of the important jazz and blues figures of New Orleans during the eighties and early nineties. In the late 90’s he began working on two projects in Mexico shooting indigenous cultures and landscape nudes throughout the country. Armed with several cumbersome fifty year old modified 4x5 Graflex cameras and employing the now discontinued Polaroid Type 55 B&W sheet film, he produced one of his richest bodies of work to date. Crum produced hundreds of images using this film and the large silver laced negatives matched perfectly with his moody printmaking style.
Large format aside, Crum’s particular love for square medium format remained intact. Playing off of the restrictions within the boxed viewfinder allowed him to develop a verypersonal style of portraiture. Combined with the use of dramatic lighting and unforgiving sharp lenses, he captures the spirit of his subjects without apology. These stylized visual elements have defined his photographs but one single element remains most present, the humanity.
Crum does not like accolades but he acknowledges that one of the greatest compliments he ever received was relayed back to him from a friend who was intimate with jazz great Wynton Marsalis. Crum had collaborated with Marsalis over a few album covers and later when he was asked about working with the photographer, Marsalis replied, “Yeah, Lee Crum, that’s a bad motherfucker.”
Crum’s studio is now located in Nashville,TN where he is currently editing his image archive for an upcoming book project. In conjunction with the book, Crum is also printing a series of limited-edition archival pigment prints from these selected works.