Actor and photographer Jason Lee captures the Galveston that is
When Jason Lee drove over the causeway into Galveston a year ago, he didn’t know what he would find.
It was his first time on the island, but he wasn’t visiting as a tourist. He was here to capture pictures of the area for a book commissioned by the Galveston Historical Foundation.
“Honestly, I didn’t know what to expect,” Lee said. “But I left the island inspired.”
Lee, a photographer and actor best known for his Golden Globe-nominated role as Earl Hickey in “My Name Is Earl,” had been tasked with taking photos to commemorate the 150th anniversary of the Galveston Historical Foundation. Founded in 1871 as the Galveston Historical Society, the foundation is focused on historical preservation.
While searching for a way to commemorate the anniversary, the foundation found inspiration in the 1966 book “The Galveston That Was,” which captured the city’s architecture and historical buildings, Dwayne Jones, the foundation’s executive director, said. The group decided to create something similar showing where the island was after 150 years.
The result is “Galveston.”
Published by the foundation and Film Photographic, the book features 100 color and black-and-white film photographs. It was released in August in a limited 2,500 copies and focuses on all parts of the island, with mostly exterior shots.
In 2002, Lee developed a passion for photography and dedicated himself to pursuing the medium as a creative profession, according to Film Photograph, the Instagram film photography sharing page and photo book publisher he founded in 2015.
His photographic works have since been featured in multiple group and solo exhibitions, magazines and books, with 2018’s “A Plain View” representing the debut publication for Film Photographic.
Lee, who had published photos of West Texas and Tulsa, was a natural choice for the role, Jones said.
“We were looking for a photographer who captures the story of an area or a community in a fresh, kind of honest way,” Jones said. “He caught the things that seemed most striking to him. I think they’re really fresh and clean.”
Although Lee hadn’t been to Galveston, he was thrilled to be invited by the foundation because he had enjoyed his previous trips to photograph other parts of the state, he said.
“I ended up loving Galveston and found the photographs to be an almost necessary extension of the mainland Texas photographs behind it,” he said.
To help Lee with the task, the foundation gave him a copy of “The Galveston That Was,” Jones said. But the group also wanted Lee to choose his own photos unaffected by the opinions of those familiar with the area. After all, choosing an outsider had been deliberate.
“Once you’re here and a part of the community, you’re influenced by a number of different things — people, locations, things that are familiar to you, that you’re comfortable or uncomfortable with,” Jones said.
Lee’s unfamiliarity with the island allowed him to see things differently.
“He really was coming at it with a totally fresh perspective,” Jones said. “So, everything that he did and every place he went, he was doing his own thing.”
For his part, Lee wanted to see as much of the island as possible, not just the historic parts. Although his process as a photographer is spontaneous, he planned to see more than what had been the primary focus of many photographers over the years, he said.
“I wanted to see Galveston in as much a whole as possible and its different facets and present photographs that hopefully allow for a broader view of the place,” he said.
“Galveston” captures more than just the city’s historic downtown. It encompasses the whole island with simple shots of what might often go unnoticed.
It was these forgotten places that most inspired Lee, as did the cinematic feel of the island, he said.
“I loved Galveston’s sense of quietness, and its sense of emptiness,” he said. “And that you could drive to the east side of the island and feel like you’d never seen downtown.”
Readers might be surprised by the images Lee captured, especially because he didn’t focus solely on the downtown architecture, Jones said.
“It’s a really different perspective,” he said.
Lee, too, is happy with the result, although he doesn’t have a favorite photo.
“I think the whole experience was what made it for me,” he said.