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.