Lee Tanner began using a camera as a teenager in New York City. An avid jazz fan from the age of eight and inspired by the jazz photography of Gjon Mili, Bill Claxton, Herb Snitzer, and Herman Leonard, he turned to documenting the jazz scene with a love for the music comparable only to his creative drive for visual expression. Photography, however, was only an avocation.
After graduation from college and a short tour in the U. S. Army, Tanner undertook scientific graduate studies leading to a career in metallurgical research. His career in science proceeded in parallel with the photography of jazz musicians for more than 40 years. Tanner scientific work involved frequent travel and he took every opportunity to capture the jazz scene on film in all the cities he visited in the U. S. and Europe. While living in Boston in the 60s, Tanner turned to video presentation,. producing a live,impromptu music series entitled MIXED BAG on the PBS channel WGBH. Downbeat was the first magazine to publish Tanner's work in 1958 and later his pictures appeared on the pages of many other journals including Rolling Stone, Jazz Magazine (Paris), Jazz Times, American Photo and Popular Photography. They also graced the jackets for LP and CD records produced by Atlantic, Sony/Columbia, Verve, Fantasy, Rhino and Prestige.
Tanner has had numerous one-man shows in galleries and jazz clubs across the country including The Jazz Gallery in New York City, and Vision Gallery, Kimball's East and Yoshi's in the San Francisco Bay Area.
Tanner published four books of photography. The first, entitled Dizzy (1994) was a celebration of the trumpeter and composer’s 75th year. Tanner’s own work was published in Images of Jazz (1996), while Images of the Blues (1998) included the work of several other artists alongside his own. His most recent book, The Jazz Image… Masters of Jazz Photography (2006) is an anthology of images by twenty-seven photographers.
In 2006, Tanner received the Excellence in Photography Award from the Jazz Journalists Association. In 2010, he was presented with the prestigious Lucie Award for Achievement in Documentary. The Lucie Awards are given annually to honor the work of master photographers.
Lee Tanner passed away in September 2013 at the age of 82. His daughter Lisa Tanner now curates his extensive archives and contributes contemporary images to this site.