Fee, James

American (1949-2006)

In his photography, James Fee chronicled American life, specifically how the passing of time affected places and experiences that were considered central to the meaning of “being American.” His images of empty drive-in theaters, decaying diners, vacant factories and once-prized automobiles have become as iconic as his subjects once were.

Following high school, Fee drove from his hometown in Iowa to San Francisco, shooting along the way. He arrived on the West Coast with an already significant body of work and set up a home base, from which he conducted business for the rest of his life. In the 1990s, Fee revisited some of these places from his westward journey; shocked at their transformation, he began his “Photographs of Americana” series. The follow-up images were shot, ironically enough, on a Russian-made camera, as much of his specialized equipment had been stolen and could not be replaced. In 1998, Fee chose to pursue another history-based project, traveling to Peleliu Island. His father, a Navy officer in the 40s, had taken pictures when stationed there during WWII. Fee attempted to photograph the same scenes, now capturing the debris following those battles: rusted equipment, debris from planes, even over-grown roads.