Russell Lee was born in Ottawa, Illinois in 1903. He attended Lehigh University in Pennsylvania earning an engineering degree. He worked for the government displaying the working conditions of farmers and immigrants until the branch fell under the jurisdiction of the War Office. Lee joined the Air Transport Command as a surveillance photographer in World War II. After the war he taught photography at the University of Texas, and was a free-lance photographer for magazines, corporations, the federal government and the University. He died in Austin, Texas in 1986.