Lee Nye Photography Award

The 2014 winner of the Lee Nye photography award is Isabel Mallon from Carlisle, Cumbria, UK for her piece “Free.”

Though Lee Nye was born in Montana and lived here for much of his adult life, he traveled all over the United States photographing landscapes and portraits. Nye captured images of many different subjects, but he is best known for his extraordinary portraits of ordinary individuals. Nye’s work has been published in the New York Times and Time magazine. In his photographic art book Children of Belfast, Tom Kumpf likened Lee Nye to some of America’s most noted photographers. He remarked, “Artists such as Dorothea Lange, Walker Evans, Lee Friedlander and my long term friend and teacher, Lee Nye have had the greatest influence on my life and work.”

Aerie International is a coming together of international artists of all types. Lee Nye took portraits of many noted Montana writers and artists, including James Welch, Richard Hugo, Rudy Autio, James Lee Burke, Ed Lahey, and Roger Dunsmore. We are proud to give awards in the names of some of these men. Nye’s work shows the interconnectedness of the art world and the ever present need for artists to support and appreciate each other’s work.

In his career, Nye took over 1800 photographs. He is most recognized for his collections of portraits taken of Missoula’s working class. In his black and white portrait collections, he equalizes lawyers, transients, bankers, poets, miners, and millionaires. The focal points of his photographs are his subjects’ eyes and facial expressions. Some are happy, some are sad, all are human.

Nye’s work is recognized throughout the world. Expressionist painter Elaine de Kooning once described Nye as “an artist’s artist.” She likened his close up portraits of ranchers and winter landscapes to Japanese watercolors. Perhaps these are reasons she and her husband Willem de Kooning purchased Lee Nye’s Bird Series for their personal collection. The Lee Nye Photography Award is given each year to honor the work of an exceptional young photographer. We thank the family of Lee Nye for allowing us the honor of offering an award in his name.


One thought on “Lee Nye Photography Award

  1. Ronald Schleyer says:

    I was one of Mr. Nye’s students (ca. 1977) at the University of Montana and I distinctly remember that his notable portraits of “working class” folks were in fact portraits of transients, also known as hobos (mostly male), who passed through town and happened into Eddie’s Club, where the framed portraits were actually displayed after processing and printing. Each subject was chosen by Mr. Nye, who perhaps plied him with a beer and went into the alley out back where the available light was perfect, with the usual background of a brick wall. The myth has arisen from published statements of certain persons that these well-known portraits were of “regular folks.” When word came back that the subject had died somewhere, a gold star went up on the cover glass indicating this important fact. That was it. Mr. Nye also did very revealing portraits of tortured literary figures but that is another subject.

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