Timothy Charles Lee

Artist, Photographer
Timothy Charles Lee, Artist, Photographer

    Tim Lee, a Springs photographer and artist whose eye and sense of design were revealed not only in his photographs but in his collection of “vintage industrial” antiques, his sculptures made from them and from mounted shells, in his designs for party settings and even in his house, a customized space he created using salvaged, eclectic materials, died on May 8 at Southampton Hospital. He was 60 and had been diagnosed with advanced esophageal cancer in 2011.
    A lifelong resident of Maidstone Park, where his family, based in Chinatown, had a summer house since 1953, Mr. Lee was an active member of the community who liked to “give back,” as he said in a 1999 interview in The Star, and maintained numerous friends first encountered in childhood among a pack of neighborhood kids.
    He enjoyed gathering people together, entertaining in his photography studio or at his house, where he often served his popular chicken curry, or even throwing an al fresco dinner party on the jetty at Maidstone Park, complete with a tablecloth thrown over the rocks.
    In a photo booth he designed incorporating particular lighting, guests were able to trigger a remote shutter control to snap carefully constructed portraits.
    As a photographer, he worked to “capture a certain feeling,” he told The Star in 1999, using “beautiful lighting” to evoke a mood. “It’s a complete make-believe,” he said then of his still-life shots. “The magic is that you create something that’s all an illusion.”
    In recent years, Mr. Lee branched out into pure lighting design, creating ambience with a variety of lamps, candles, or paper lanterns dangling from bamboo poles — for a get-together of his own or to stage a space for weddings or other large parties for which he was hired.
    After studying photography at the State University at Old Westbury and at Parsons School of Design, Mr. Lee, who graduated from Brooklyn Technical High School, worked as a student assistant in New York City, including for some fashion photographers, and produced black-and-white pictures in the darkroom for magazines including Penthouse.
    Later in his career, he focused on still-life commercial photography, documenting artists’ work and making pictures for advertising catalogues.
    He had a studio in Chelsea before moving full-time to Springs in 1989, where he raised his children, Liam Lee and Julia Lee.
    A fan of New York sports, especially the Yankees, he coached both of his children’s Little League teams, and was “a great coach,” according to his daughter and a number of teammates. “He always made sure that he was there,” said Ms. Lee. “He was a wonderful father,” she said, teaching his children by example and showing them “what he loved, and what he cared about, and how to do things well.”
    “He raised us on strength and an unshakeable loyalty to beauty,” Ms. Lee wrote in a Facebook tribute to her dad.
    He was a member of the Maidstoners softball team in Springs from its inception, and of the Chinatown Community Young Lions, a troupe started by a cousin, with which he marched every Chinese New Year. 
    Mr. Lee was married to the former Mary Beth LaPenna in 1987; the marriage ended in divorce.
    Besides his children, both of New York City, he is survived by a sister, Audrey Lee of East Hampton, two brothers, Jan Lee and Geoffrey Lee, and another sister, Valerie Tom, all of New York City.
    He was born on April 2, 1953, in Chinatown, a son of Shung Lee, who died before him, and June Lee, who died shortly before her son.
    Tall and athletic, he could be counted on to enfold friends he encountered in a strong hug. “As a friend, he was always there when you needed him,” said Randall Rosenthal of Springs. “He was artistic in everything he did, and had a great eye.”
    He enjoyed bicycling, sometimes riding to the East End from Manhattan, including in AIDS fund-raisers ending in Southampton, and could be seen on local roads, his long black hair tied back in a thick ponytail.
    In recent years, Mr. Lee became a dealer in what he called “offbeat vintage industrial finds” — doll head molds, old type, Edison lights, apothecary and doctors’ supplies, glass beakers, and vintage kitchenware that he collected from yard sales and antiques marts such as the one at Brimfield, Mass. He began crafting them into sculptures and using them to fashion still-life scenes that he would photograph. Those works, and his sculptures of bleached and assembled nested shells, have been on display at the Neoteric Gallery in Amagansett.
    A memorial for Mr. Lee will be held tomorrow from 4 to 7 p.m. at Ashawagh Hall in Springs; those who attend have been invited to share stories and memories of him. The family has suggested memorial donations to East End Hospice, P.O. Box 1048, Westhampton Beach 11978.