A Retrospective: Nevada Behind the Lens Exhibition

Lee with camera in NHS gallery.

A Retrospective: Nevada Behind the Lens
Dr. Lee P. Brumbaugh former NHS Photography Curator

Exhibition: mid December 2019 – end May 2020
Reception: January 17, 2020 from 5:00 — 6:30 pm, free to the public and members

This exhibition will showcase select framed images from four of his completed exhibitions; highlighting Nevada’s beauty, natural and altered. Select personal items will be displayed to show his passion for Turquoise and Photography.

Dr. Lee Phillip Brumbaugh


Lee Brumbaugh had an artist’s temperament, like his father, a painter who chaired the art department at Coker College in South Carolina. Lee Brumbaugh’s passion was fine-art photography. He graduated from Hartsville High School in South Carolina in 1967. While in attendance there, he did what he considered his first fine-art photographs, of the “bone yard,” a drowned forest on Hunting Island, South Carolina. This was a foreshowing for his later Disaster series and Time in America.

In his early college career, Brumbaugh discovered Paul Strand’s Time in New England and the works of Walker Evans, which shaped how he viewed the world behind the lens. While attending the University of Vermont, Brumbaugh talked to Strand, who suggested he switch from a 35-millimeter camera to a view
camera for his landscape work. Both Strand and Evans would have strong influences on Brumbaugh’s photographic style throughout his career.

During his time at the University of Wisconsin (1969—1971), he switched his major from geology to anthropology. But Brumbaugh never lost his interest in geology; it remained one of his passions.  He loved rock hunting in Nevada and everywhere in the West. He was proud to show what minerals he discovered or purchased at mineral shows with docents, staff and visitors. One of his later photography works was scanning his Nevada picture Jasper and Agates and making beautiful watercolor-stylized artwork of them. He never finished creating an exhibition from this work.

Brumbaugh received his MFA in photography from Washington State University. Then he was off to New Orleans to enter the graduate program in anthropology at Tulane University. He was drawn to the city cemeteries and abandoned shipyards, which served as his subject matter and inspiration.

At the University of California at Berkeley, Brumbaugh received his PH.D. in anthropology and folklore. A Renaissance man, he was a wealth of information. His formal education was the prism through which he saw and experienced life. You can see the influence of his studies in anthropology and photography in his Time in Nevada, Time in America, End Times and Burning Man series which are housed at the Nevada Historical Society. But it was the darker side of life that really sparked Brumbaugh’s imagination and what he wanted to capture on film and transform into art, be it the Hunting Island bone yard, Oakland fires, Los Angeles earthquake, or Hurricane Katrina.

The Nevada Historical Society is honored to be the home of the Dr. Lee Phillip Brumbaugh Collection, which documents some of his early, collegiate and adult life, his doctoral work in Berkeley and his Nevada and California photography. Brumbaugh was the curator of photography at the Nevada Historical Society from 1996 to 2018.