James Lee in Afghanistan as presented by: Sacramento Bee

James Lee's simple plan fell apart in the winter of 2007. The former Marine, who served two tours of duty in Iraq, had moved to rural Independence near Bishop, Calif. Lee was trying to control his wanderlust by living the simple life of a construction worker. His plan dissolved when he happened on a magazine article written by mountain climber turned war correspondent, Ed Darak. "I was never going to stay in Independence long enough to enjoy a simple life," Lee said, "I accepted this fact while reading [the article]." He was 37 years old. "I sold my house and purchased my first camera." Lee said. By January, he was back in Iraq. This time, instead of carrying a gun, the veteran of the Battle of Fallujah was carrying a camera and a notebook. Lee had always gravitated toward Afghanistan. Early in 2010, he embedded with the Afghan Security Forces. He traveled to four provinces in four months. Instead of covering the American mission in Afghanistan as most photojournalists were doing, Lee said he wanted to cover the Afghan people. "If I can't tell the story from the perspective of the Afghans, I don't want to tell the story," he said. And just as he chose a non-traditional path for covering the war in Afghanistan, Lee has also avoided the traditional path to documentary photography. Lee has no formal training in photojournalism. By choice, he remains disconnected from the professional photography world so his images won't look like traditional documentary photography. "It's not about the technique of the camera, it's about the story you're telling," Lee said.

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