Tampa Bay

Bud Lee, Picturemaker, An Eye For The Fringe

Bud Lee picturemaker

Photo by Todd Bates

I’ve always been interested in eccentric people whether it’s those who are into strange things or those who fixate on the ordinary to the extent that it becomes strange – the Disney fan who lives in a faux Cinderella’s castle; the woman who has a hand towel collection that could fill a barn. It wasn’t until I worked with noted photographer Bud Lee at Tampa’s alt-weekly the Weekly Planet, now Creative Loafing, that I began to embrace this fascination. Bud’s talent for capturing these worlds far exceeded my own, but with his encouragement I began to take risks in my work and see beauty in the shadows.

I’ve been thinking a lot of about Bud since he died on June 11, 2015  He suffered a stroke in 2003, about a month after he shot my wedding photos. He was confined to a nursing home until his death. Since my tribute to him that ran in Creative Loafing, I discovered old proofs from some of our projects. I hadn’t realized how profoundly he impacted my book Fringe Florida. During my research I often wished that he was well enough to work on it with me. But I see now he was there, inspiring me to not only pursue the unusual, but to also to see the ordinary in the most bizarre.

Here are few images from our photo essay on people and their closets. You probably think, closets, how boring. But, take a look. Note: the original words I wrote for these are lost in the bowels of some long disposed computer.

Bud Lee picturemaker

My idea for the project was sparked by a Florida Trend staff Christmas party. The parties were legendary for the view they invited of the then publisher’s closet, which was always protected behind a velvet rope. She graciously allowed Bud to capture it.


Bud Lee picturemaker

With the idea being that closets tell much about a person, Bud offered that he knew a clown in nearby Gibsonton, a home to sideshow performers. On the way he took me to Giant’s Camp, a dive of a restaurant started by a sideshow giant and his wife, billed as “the half-woman” Later I explored Gibsonton for my book, but Bud’s introduction and images gave me a colorful insight to the quirky community.

.Bud Lee picturemaker

Bud knew just how to stage a shot.


We also worked on a photo essay about Tampa’s adult entertainment industry that upset a few advertisers and got the paper banned from Barnes & Noble. However, the ban was due to a quote I used, not his images. The contrast of the words and black and whites images expressed a duality of the subjects. In true Bud irony, his images captured the normal in those who worked outside the bounds of propriety.

Bud Lee picturemaker

Pictured is an Tampa area Madam, her boyfriend (a paralyzed former Navy seal) and their pet by the pool of their new new home.

.Bud Lee picturemaker

A male escort off-duty in his kitchen.

Without Bud’s influence, I’m sure that Fringe Florida would have been a different book. Maybe less sensitive, maybe more reserved. I don’t know. But I’m sure less interesting.



Joe Redner: Strip Club King and Cigar City Beer Backer

Most Tampa Bay residents know Joe Redner as the fiery owner of Mons Venus, a world-famous nude strip club. Being supremely fringe, Joe was prime fodder for my book. I interviewed him for a chapter called “The King of Trampa.”

Since my book went to press, Joe’s battled lung cancer and watched his son’s craft beer business, Cigar City Brewing, which Joe funded, flourish nationally. (The New York Times rated Guava Grove Farmhouse Ale the best value in sour, craft beer).

In fact, Cigar City Brewing is in such demand that Virginia friends begged me to haul them a case on my flight up as if I were a bootlegger. I opted for a change of clothes rather than gratitude that would have lasted about as long as it took them to down a six-pack of Cigar City’s Florida Cracker. Their disappointment was nothing compared to that of the brew lovers’ who were left thirsty at Hunahpu’s Day, Cigar City’s annual special release party, when they discovered their tickets were counterfeit.

As you can see from his interview below with WFLA Channel 8 News Anchor Gayle Sierens, Joe’s clearly proud of Joey and happy with the return on his investment.

Sierens interviewed Joe for a two-part story this week ostensibly because he’s closing in on his 74th birthday. But hey, it’s ratings week and everyone knows that hints of nude women draw more views than a scandal about the Mayor’s sweet, taxpayer-funded ride.

Joe admittedly enjoys weed and credits it for helping him deal with cancer. Ever passionate and prone to pursuing the forbidden, Joe pursues his Gaunga-love through another business endeavor – a marijuana grow house.

Joe, always provocative, forever fringe.

WFLA News Channel 8

WFLA News Channel 8