The Way Back: In Formation

The Way Back: In Formation

Unlocking the vault of UT history

Russell Lee was one of the 20th century’s most important photographers. Trained as a chemical engineer, he spent the 1920s struggling to make it as an artist. Eventually ditching the paintbrush for the camera, Lee captured some of the most striking images of the Great Depression and the New Deal before moving to Texas in 1947. Lee taught photography at UT from 1965-73, after which he remained a sage mentor for photography students and scholars until his death in 1986. Shortly before he died, he donated more than 3,000 prints (as well as letters and negatives) to what is now UT’s Briscoe Center for American History.

In this photo of Longhorn football players on their way to practice, Lee captures the slog and grind of a practice. It’s the mundane rendered as exotic, a troop of young men ambling single-file over a rickety bridge while Waller Creek runs beneath.

Photo credit: Russell Lee Photograph Collection, Briscoe Center; UT-Austin