Corky Lee is the undisputed master photographer of Asian America. The New York-based journalist has criss-crossed the country for decades and manages to be where the action is, whether it’s a protest over racism or an Asian cultural celebration.
I’ve gotten to know Corky Lee over the last decade because of the Asian American Journalists Association. I know when I attend an AAJA convention or the larger Unity convention that includes AAJA every four years, that he’ll be there, networking and meeting and greeting — he knows everyone. He’s a photographer but he’s not there to chronicle the conventions. He’s there for the fundraising silent auction, where he helps out with the sale of photographs by member journalists, including his own work.
Erin and I have purchased several of his photographs at these auctions, because they’re terrific photojournalism, and because every cent goes toward AAJA. Corky donates his time and his images.
Erin and I also ran into Corky when he visited Denver for an OCA/JACL banquet where we served as emcees. Corky was there to unveil his now-famous photo of Chinese Americans posed at the facing locomotives at Promontory Point, Utah, where the transcontinental railroad met. That’s where Corky first used the term “photographic justice,” because he assembled the crowd and shot the photo as a response to the 1869 photo at the same spot, where a famous photo showed all Caucasians … and none of the thousands of Chinese laborers who helped lay the tracks were in the shot, because they were ordered to stay miles away from the celebration.
When I worked briefly in New Jersey, I next ran into Corky at an Asian festival in Manhattan. He was carrying his equipment, on the prowl for cool images, and we competed for the best shots of singer-songwriter Cynthia Lin. It was the first time I’d heard her, but Corky was familiar with her, of course.
We respect Corky’s work so much that we interviewed him on our visualizAsian.com show, and asked him to talk about some of his photos — as selected by fans, who voted for their favorites from this slideshow: