Man(made) vs. Nature: Meet Fine Art Photographer Lee Backer

Written by Artie The Panda

With five decades shooting urban and natural landscapes, Lee Backer has much experience to draw from. Lee’s upbringing in Brooklyn and the New Jersey’s dairy country may explain his passion for both urban and natural environments. Now in his 50th year behind the camera, Lee’s body of work reflects his worldly travels from Morocco to Machu Picchu, as well as images captured in his part-time home of New York City.

Focus on what you're feeling.

In the work Lee shares with Artie’s Eight, the city images highlight the vibrant colors of each scene. The three photos from New Zealand, Oregon and Central Park are in black-and-white on purpose: to focus on the shapes, lines and textures in each composition. Personally, I find the dream-like quality Lee’s photo of New Zealand’s Milford Sound to be especially captivating. Here’s Lee’s advice for attaining this otherworldly effect: “Focus more on what you’re feeling and not as much on what you’re seeing,” he said in a video interview with the French television channel Museum TV.

Framing his art.

A recent exhibit of Lee’s “Tree Studies” included the cherry tree seen here, photographed in Central Park. He chose Wood Frame Profile 502A in Burgundy for framing the series. “I ordered the complete kit for all 12: frame, glass, mat and backing board. Everything arrived quickly and in perfect condition.” Feedback like that always makes our day.

See more of his work.

Now that Lee is retired from his technology career, he can hone his craft full-time. We can’t wait to see where he goes next. Explore galleries of Lee’s work at Or simply read on if you’d like to know Lee’s greatest gadget regret along with wisdom gleaned from his class with Leonard Freed.

Now for Artie’s Eight with Lee Backer…

1. What is your background; how did you get started?

After college, I started my first full-time job. I eventually got time off for vacation. While planning my first trip, it occurred to me that most people take a camera along in order to bring back pictures to show friends and family, and that I should do the same. Before that, I had never paid much attention to cameras or photography. When I returned from the vacation, I became friends with someone who had been photographing for a while. He showed me his photographs, which I thought were beautiful. So when I showed him my vacation photos, I was quite surprised when he said I had a good eye for photography and urged me to pursue it. I did, and I've been hooked ever since.

2. How important is it for a photographer to “connect” with their subject?

As a fine art photographer, I want to make a photograph because there is something in the subject that attracts me. It is not a surface attraction like a pretty sunset, but something that resonates deeper inside. These often turn out to be my strongest images.

3. What has been a formative experience or the best advice you’ve received within your career?

I have taken a few classes and workshops over the years with photographers whose work I admire. The very first class I took was with Leonard Freed, who at the time had just been invited to join the Magnum photo agency. He said one thing that I will always remember: “Technical excellence in a print is not something to be praised; it is to be expected.” For me this means that to master the craft of photography is not an end in itself, but rather the means to be able to employ the skills and techniques that are needed to express exactly what I want in a print. The technical ability is there to support the art.

4. What ways does your work reflect your personality?

I tend to lean toward quiet, contemplative imagery. I suspect it reflects my introspective personality. Even though I no longer use a view camera, the care and thought that went into exposing a single sheet of film has stayed with me. I now use a digital camera, but I still don't make a lot of exposures when I go out shooting. Before I click the shutter, I ask myself questions: Why am I taking this picture? Is this the best way to frame it? Do I envision the final image in color or black and white? And so on.

5. Creative blocks, do you get them? If so, how do you overcome them?

When I reach the end of a project and don't know what I want to do for the next one, I find inspiration by looking at photo books or going online to view images of photographers I like. I may also review my catalog of photos to see what inspired me in the past. I may see something in a photo taken years ago, something I didn't notice before, that gets me thinking in a new way.

6. What is your most indispensable tool? (Not counting the obvious, like paints, brushes, canvas, camera, etc.)

For me the print is still the best way to present an image. I want to have total control over the printmaking process, and for this I rely on my fine-art inkjet printer.

7. Do you have a new project you are working on, or a new passionate idea?

I continue to explore the idea that a tree, when recognized as an individual being, can be seen to have its own beauty, personality, challenges and life story on display. Since my 2017 “Tree Studies” exhibition at the Soho Photo Gallery in New York City, I decided to expand the portfolio and possibly make a book.

8. What “fad” gadget do you most regret purchasing?

Years ago I bought a camera bag because it looked good and I thought it promoted the image of a “professional photographer,” which I was not. The bag had so many straps, buckles, zippers, and snaps that it took way too long to access what I needed or to stow all my gear away.

All artwork and/or photographs used in this post are subject to copyright held by the featured artist.

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