Margaret Lee Photographs the Ordinary in Alameda

Her images are of unremarkable but enduring scenes.


Photo courtesy of the artist

When Margaret Lee arrived in Alameda in 2004, she didn’t have to look far for artistic inspiration. She began to chronicle Alameda by starting with her daily commute, concentrating on what was right in front of her. Sometimes she was equipped with a small camera, though often she just worked to capture everday moments with her phone’s camera.

Each day, her commute meandered by the same home across from Thompson Field, and Lee’s eye was repeatedly drawn to its immaculately manicured foliage. Soon she noticed other interesting topiary around the Island, deciding topiary was a novel suburban art form worth training her camera on. In her series Haircuts of Alameda, Lee shared observations of that topiary: trees coiffed painstakingly neat, bushes messy and chaotic. Sometimes, the topiary was downright quirky and surreal.

A Boston native, Lee found a home in Alameda 14 years ago after living in Philadelphia, San Francisco, and Oakland. Mayberry by the Bay, she has delightfully discovered, has allowed her to elevate her everyday observations into an art form.

“I’m not the most technically adept photographer. I am more interested in capturing a moment and revisiting it to observe how a setting changes as well as how it remains constant,” Lee explained.

A seasoned graphic designer, Lee has moved up the ranks at Google, and as management became more a part of her professional life, she looked for new avenues and sources for creative energy. Her background in graphic design leads her to home in on the color, composition, and contrast in seemingly simple images. Lee plays with the use of Prisma on some photos, mostly figuratives, to capture and create a quiet storybook quality of small-town life.

The Alameda Lee depicts can feature a stately Victorian framed by palm trees, the vibrant colors of the Sikh Riders of America in the Fourth of July parade, or even a lone lamppost full of dirty, dangling sneakers at Alameda Point. She presents Alameda as a unique small town nestled in the shadow of world-class cities, perfectly capturing everyday life and moments that are uniquely Alameda — unremarkable but enduring scenes worth memorializing. See her work on Facebook, Instagram, and Tumblr.