Why Russell Lee?

At the time Lyle Saunders and George Sanchez were planning the Study, Russell Lee was both widely considered to be one of the most accomplished documentary photographers of his time and was living in Austin. Thus he was an ideal choice to provide photographic support for the project. Saunders and Sanchez were interested in data samples collected over long periods of time. Saunders noted that there was much to be gained by having Lee re-survey the Spanish-speaking communities in Corpus Christi, San Antonio, and South Texas that Lee had documented in 1939 as part of the Farm Security Administration efforts. During the course of his correspondence with Sanchez about the project, Saunders wrote, "We will thus have...a documentary record of the improvement, or lack of improvement, in the conditions of the Spanish-speaking during the past ten years."1.

Sanchez and Saunders provided extensive documentation with which to inform Lee of the intent of the study. This documentation included a historical overview of the various Mexican American communities; a four-part description of the study's aims, need, objectives and assumptions; and a detailed five-page single-spaced outline that was to guide Lee during his field trips. The documentation left no doubt as to how the photographs were intended to be used. However, for reasons that continue to perplex researchers who are aware of their existence, these photographs were not published in connection with the study.

1. Saunders to Sanchez, letter dated April 5, 1949, in the George I. Sanchez Papers, Mexican American Archives, Benson Latin American Collection, The University of Texas at Austin.