Meet Frank Jang and the Chinatown Photographic Society

Frank Jang at the Chinatown Photographic Society in San Francisco.

Frank Jang at the Chinatown Photographic Society in San Francisco.

As a visitor walks down the steps to the gallery space, he’s greeted by the buzz of people discussing photography. Bright lighting illuminates dozens of great photographs mounted, framed and arranged on the walls. Photographers are looking through their portfolios of work, giving each other advice. In a separate room, a group of photographers is crouched around a computer screen, clicking through images and discussing which is best.

This is the Chinatown Photographic Society (CPS) in San Francisco, and it’s a hub of creative energy, humming with purpose and resulting in an incredible high level of artistic work on the walls.

And, surprisingly, most of the photographers in the room are 50+. Many of the Society’s members are in their 60s, 70s and 80s. The oldest member is 94. He, along with several other current members, were on hand at the start, when the CPS was formed 48 years ago. Just think: in 1967 San Francisco was in the throes of “The Summer of Love” and Chinatown was the undisputed center of Northern California’s Chinese community and culture.
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Late Boulder photographer William Corey’s incredible photos of Japan’s gardens put on display at DIA

Denver International Airport is preparing for the long-awaited launch of the direct flight between Denver and Tokyo’s Narita Airport, and as part of the hubbub, a Boulder photographer who died in 2008 of cancer will be paid special tribute with his enormous images on display at the airport. The photos will establish a isual — and visceral — connection with Japan for travelers before they even step aboard United flight 139’s Boeing 787 Dreamliner jet for the 12-hour trek.

The Boulder Daily Camera wrote up a nice piece on Corey. His widow, Reimi Adachi, is a dedicated keeper and promoter of the artists’ work, and pushed for this exhibit.

You can enjoy Corey’s spectacular talent for capturing the beauty and spiritual essence of Japanese gardens on

We need this documentary about Corky Lee, the photographer who’s kept his lens on Asian America

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 show, and asked him to talk about some of his photos — as selected by fans, who voted for their favorites from this slideshow:
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Next on Meet Corky Lee!

I caught Corky Lee preparing to shoot photos of singer-songwriter Cynthia Lin at a 2006 Asian festival in New York City (picture #22)

We’re thrilled to announce the next interview of’s Asian American Empowerment Series, a free one-hour conversation with award-winning photojournalist Corky Lee, who has captured Asian America through his lenses for over three decades! Register now for the call, which will be Tuesday April 20 at 6 pm PT — this one’s going to be extra-special!

In addition to the conversation that you can listen to as usual, via phone or webcast, we’ll be showing Corky’s work in a slideshow, and you can vote on your 10 favorite images from the 30 shown here, and Corky will share the stories behind the Top 10 during our talk!

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Asian American artists’ hidden history (and my claim to almost-fame)

Asian Americans are finally showing up in American pop culture at large, but Asian American fine artists are still mostly invisible. Only a few have had notable — or rather, noted — careers in the art world.

When I was an art student, I didn’t think much of my heritage. You might say it was my “Banana Period.” As an artist, I didn’t appreciate my ethnicity, even when I was included in a group show of Japanese artists and my painting was bought by a famous playwright (keep reading below).

I simply didn’t identify myself as an Asian American artist. I was simply an artist, and the art I made was informed by my 8th grade art teacher, Julie Maiolo, my high school art teacher, Jay Filson, and all my professors (especially color theorist Mary Buckley), as well as the art history teachers and books I soaked up. Which meant my awareness of art was all Euro-centric.

In all of that art history and theory, what I knew of Asia in art was that calligraphy was beautiful, ink painting was hard but similar in process to watercolor, and that Japanese woodblocks inspired the French Impressionists that I loved so much.

So it’s understandable that I assumed any artist with an Asian name was Asian, not Asian American. For instance, for years I thought the sculptor Isamu Noguchi was Japanese, even though he was born in Los Angeles.

But now, the hidden history of Asian American artists is finally getting a jump start, thanks to two projects.

First is the first extensive exhibition of Asian American artists, “Asian/American/Modern Art: Shifting Currents, 1900–1970,” curated by the de Young Museum, part of the San Francisco Fine Art Museum (there’s a companion book available). The exhibit opened in October, and runs through late January. Then the work moves to the Noguchi Museum in Long Island City near New York.

Second is the publication of “Asian American Art: A History, 1850-1970,” by Stanford University Press.
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