Corky Lee, an award-winning photographer who captured the everyday lives and political activism of the Asian American community, has died at the age of 73 after battling Covid-19…(excerpts) His photography began in junior high, when he saw a famous 1869 photograph commemorating the completion of the transcontinental railroad, according to the Asian/Pacific/American Institute at New York University. But the photo, purportedly showing railroad workers, contained no Chinese workers -- despite there being an estimated 15,000 Chinese laborers contributing to its construction.
The photo's apparent erasure of Chinese workers inspired Lee's future work: a lifetime of photographing Asian Americans and cementing their representation in history. In one of his most famous works, he gathered a group of Chinese Americans and descendants of Chinese railroad laborers to recreate the 1868 photograph in the same original location.
He also captured other historic moments of social and political upheaval; his photos covered antiwar protests, fair housing issues, the gentrification of Chinatown, Islamophobia after 9/11, and more. His work became more widely recognized after 1975, when he captured large-scale protests against police brutality, following the beating of a Chinese American at the hands of New York police officers.
In another well-known instance, Lee photographed furious demonstrations in 1983, sparked by the murder of Vincent Chin and the light sentence for his killers -- a turning point for Asian American civil rights in the following decades.
His dedication to documenting racial injustice, its consequences and the community's resistance continued until the end, with recent work focusing on attacks toward Asian Americans during the coronavirus pandemic, according to the family's statement.
A film about his life and work, "Photographic Justice: The Corky Lee Story," was in production at the time of his death.
"When I think about my past, what stands out most is how hard and how long the journey has been," "The pursuit of photographic justice, you have to keep going on because there's so much that needs to be done," he adds.
Corky Lee, an award-winning photographer who captured the everyday lives and political activism of the Asian American community, has died at the age of 73 after battling Covid-19.