SAIT and ACAD grad “didn’t stop for anything”

At 2 p.m., Trudie Lee hasn’t had lunch yet.

A bowl of Campbell’s tomato soup from the microwave of her studio – topped with a handful of crushed saltines – will be an unenthusiastic fix for her growing hunger.

Lee has been in the photography industry since she graduated from SAIT in 1983, and now works with some of Canada’s most prestigious businesses, including Suncor.

“Photography is even more competitive now than it was then. The city was booming. I was lucky to get in on the ground level,” said Lee, 47.

Lee has shared this studio space with her partner, Brian Harder, for twelve years, sacrificing her social life and any chance at a vacation.

“I didn’t stop for anything. You can’t take time off in this industry,” she says. “You’ll get replaced.”

Proofs of ad campaigns, glossy 4 x 6 shots of dancers and musician profile pictures are scattered throughout her studio office. Nine consecutive Christmas cards featuring her daughters are
also in the mix.

“I always say I’m not the artist in the family. I’m commercial,” said Lee, who doesn’t hear the call of a seemingly glitzier clientele. “Any one of the businessmen I work with has more money
than Brad Pitt. This is our Hollywood.”

Lee got her first break at the Weal as where she worked as assistant photo director.

“I still remember the reaction of seeing how the pictures printed,” she says. “We printed black and white back then. We only got to print a colour cover twice a year.”

After graduation, Lee jumped the tracks and enrolled in the ACAD photography program where she was taught fine art photography, and learned she wasn’t cut out for photojournalism.

“I’m not into … jump-over-your-desk news photography,” said Lee.

Her post-ACAD portfolio landed her a residency at the Banff Centre for the Arts. For two years, she photographed everything from simple headshots to dancers frozen in mid-air for the cover
of the arts guide.

“Being in that environment planted the seed for a lot of the relationships I have now,” she said.

She returned to Calgary and brought her clients with her, creating a long lasting relationship with theatre, dance and music in the city.

Decidedly Jazz dance studios have trusted Lee’s eye for angles and timing for portraits of their dancers for the last 20 years.

“Fabulous,” said artistic director of Decidedly Jazz, Vicki Willis, of Lee’s work. “She is enthusiastic, has a great eye and is always upbeat.”

Today, Harder/Lee Photography has one of the most ambitious portfolios in Calgary, and Lee is currently working on an exhibition to showcase her best work.

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