An artist in the rough, Lee Nye was a brilliant, largely undiscovered photographer from the rugged state of Montana. He was a cowboy, a veteran, a poet, a teacher, and a bartender. Most of all, Lee Nye was an artist who captured the souls of a bygone America on film like no one else of his generation.
From 1965 to 1973, he was the dynamic and artfully mustachioed man behind the bar at Eddie’s Club, a legendary establishment in the logging and railroad town of Missoula, Montana. Eddie’s was a rough-hewn watering hole populated by railroad workers and other common folks that was discovered by poets, professors, and college-student hippies, forming one of the American West’s most vibrant cultural melting pots. Nye spent many of the preceding years in California, studying photography at the Brooks Institute, and in New Orleans, working in commercial photography (his credits included Photography Magazine, Art News, and others), but he was drawn back to the earthy grandeur and gritty culture of Montana.
It was inevitable he would end up at Eddie’s Club. Nye was of the Beat Generation and this was the working-class bar where writers like Jack Kerouac, Allen Ginsberg, and poet Richard Hugo could be found. In 1965, Nye began asking the regulars, the leather-palmed working men with countless untold stories etched in their creased faces, to step outside. Using the bar's back alley as his studio, he photographed his subjects with black and white film on a Rolleiflex camera using only natural light.
Today, Missoula is a sparkling town tucked in wild folds of the Rockies that fills with tourists every summer and regularly appears on glossy magazines’ lists of best places to live. But beneath the new sheen, an older Missoula lives on. Walk through the front door of Charlie B’s, the iconic bar once known as Eddie’s Club, and you will find the portraits still hanging, staring back at you from storied walls, lost men and women from a former world.
A Corner of Space and Time: Lee Nye’s Eddie's Club Portraits is a fine art book of 150 pages hard bound in black cloth. Working with Nye’s wife, Jean Belangie-Nye, we have scanned the negatives of the entire Eddie’s Club collection and prepared them for print. Each image will be accompanied by a short biography of the subject. The portraits will be printed in a duotone with black and metallic silver by the fine art book publisher The Studley Press.