The SoHo Photographer

Dee photographed in his studio in 2013. Photo by Joy Whalen

Over his nearly forty year career, D. James Dee worked as a photographer documenting artwork for galleries, exhibitions and books—but the bulk of his business was shooting artist’s portfolios. Known for his expertise in capturing color and large scale work, Dee was in high demand among dealers like Brooke Alexander, Mary Boone and Paula Cooper and shot everyone from Julian Schnabel, Jean Michel Basquiat and Donald Judd. 

Over the years, Dee amassed an impressive collection of transparencies, slides and photographs. “If someone wanted four transparencies, I’d have a fifth shot,” Dee recalled. “If they ordered 10 slides, I’d shoot 12. It was cheaper to shoot extras than to go back and reshoot. Instead of throwing them out, I put them in a box.” The resulting archive of over 250,000 works is a comprehensive visual history of the New York art scene from 1970 to present day, with one caveat, Dee made almost no cataloging notes to identify what he was documenting. 

When Dee decided to retire in 2013, he had difficulty finding a home for the archive—the task of cataloging everything seemed too daunting to many museums and institutions. Fortunately, his archive was saved from the dumpster when Artstor stepped in, and with the help of crowdsourcing and discerning staff, began the arduous task of cataloging and digitizing the collection. Over 1000 images from the The D. James Dee Archive of Contemporary Art are available online today, and Artstor plans to digitize the remaining collection in the years to come.