Lee was born on July 23, 1903 in Ottawa, Ill. He earned a degree in Chemical Engineering from Lehigh University and got a great job as a chemist. But he wanted to be a painter, so he quit his job. He started taking photographs as an aid to his painting, but then got interested in photography for its own sake.
In 1936, he joined the FSA photographic documentation project. He joined Dorothea Lange, Arthur Rothstein and Walker Evans. Together they created what has been called 'the greatest documentary collection which has ever been assembled.' Lee continued as a photographer after the FSA disbanded, becoming the first photographer instructor at the University of Texas n 1965. He died on Aug. 28, 1986.