Neil Lee was born on February 9th 1921 in Sidmouth, Devon, England. Neil schooled in England and excelled in history.
At the start of World War II he joined the Royal Air Force. He served much of the war in Egypt and Libya where he developed a keen interest in archaeology, as he was able to visit many of the famous sites. He married Elaine in 1947 and, after the war, he moved to Elaine's homeland of South Africa.
Their first house was on the outskirts of Durban and Neil worked for Barlo, in the electrical department. Before the war, Elaine had been a teacher in Vryheid and one of her students had been Robbie Steel. After schooling, Robbie was appointed as a Game ranger in the Giant's Castle area of the central Drakensberg. He encouraged Neil and Elaine to visit him and asked Neil to help him to start photographing rock art sites in the area.
Neil's first photographs were taken in Njuba shelter and he was soon hooked. He realised that close-up photography was the only way to photograph San rock art and therefore bought a good camera and a series of inter-connecting close-up lenses. In this way, he pioneered close-up photography of rock art in South Africa.
In 1952 Neil was headhunted to be the technical manager for African Lamps and Thorn Electrical Industries in Johannesburg.
At a party in 1953 he was approached by a man called Bert Woodhouse, who asked to accompany Neil on his next field trip. This was the start of a partnership that would last for more than three decades and which saw Neil and Bert recording rock art in many areas, but particularly in the Free State. They spent every holiday and free weekend surveying for and recording rock art, often accompanied by their wives.
Their base for eight years was an empty farmhouse near Slabberts, kindly made available to them by a local farmer. But, as time went on, they found themselves having to travel further and further away to find new sites and eventually they had to leave this base. Most of their work was privately funded, for a few years the work was supported by the CSIR and by Anglo American who eventually paid for the collection to be donated to the University of the Witwatersrand.
The decades of recording rock art culminated in the publication of a book called Art on the Rocks of South Africa in 1970.