By Ti-Hua Chang, Editor of AsAmNews
Inside the sprawling federal courthouse in downtown Brooklyn, where gangsters, international terrorists and drug lords have stood trial, there is now a different kind of justice – a justice made of pictures.
At the back of the courthouse lobby, on the walls of the Sifton Art Gallery, there is photographic justice for Asian Americans. From May until November, the works of 30 Asian American photographers line the walls of the gallery.
The exhibit is titled “Photographic Justice a Tribute to Corky Lee.” Lee has dedicated 50 years to photographing and reporting the Asian American stories ignored by the United States; images ranging from garment workers to civil rights protests to AAPI charity fundraisers. Lee has described himself as the “undisputed, unofficial winner of the Asian American photographer”. He was also a mentor and inspiration to many of the exhibit’s photographers. Photographing Asian Americans was his full-time, but largely unpaid crusade.
TRANSCONTINENTAL RAILWAY RESTORATION JUSTICE
A colorful photograph on display shows dozens of people near a locomotive in Promontory Point, Utah. As an activist photojournalist, Corky Lee brought together some of the Chinese-American descendants of railroad workers for this photo. In 1869, the transcontinental railroad was completed there. Its completion cemented the development of the national economy of the United States. But the Chinese workers, who built the railroads on the dangerous Sierra Nevada mountain range, were intentionally excluded from the official portrait. Lee’s photograph was colorful justice for Chinese workers previously erased from American history.
COLLECTIVE VOICES PER IMAGE
Exhibit curator and photographer Chee Ng Wang, told AsAmNews, “This exhibit brings the collective voices and statement of our communities literally and figuratively to the federal courthouse. The works presented are the most important for these last 2 difficult years
for Asian American communities. Photography is most democratic in showing humanity without language barriers as evidenced by Corky’s ideal and philosophy, and he always holds court to Photographic Justice: A Tribute to Corky Lee. Corky’s passion lives on in the photo
of more than 30 photographers who participated in this fair.
Photographs on display include images of protests against recent and ongoing anti-Asian hatred, intimate portraits of Asian families, Sikh Americans wrapped in stars and stripes, and AAPI war veterans.
CORKY’S BROTHER AND PROPER JUSTICE
When the exhibit opened in May, John J. Lee described how his brother Corky considered his camera his sword of justice noting,
“It is remarkably fitting that this first public display of some of Corky’s hundreds of thousands of images is here in a building dedicated to the pursuit of the very thing he sought – that is, justice. photographic justice was what he saw, and photographic justice will always be his legacy.
CORKY LEE’S LAST FACEBOOK POST WAS ON ASAMNEWS
Also shown is a photo of the last Facebook post Corky Lee made before his death from Covid in January 2021. It shows the flowers that AsAmNews founder and editor Randall Yip sent Lee to his hospital room. The two shared a special camaraderie. Like Lee, Yip is unpaid for his decade-long efforts to tell AAPI stories.
Photographic Justice A Tribute to Corky Lee is the first Asian American exhibition presented in an East Coast federal courthouse. It is free and open to the public from Monday to Friday during opening hours. The courthouse is located at 225 Cadman Plaza and is easily accessible by subway.
(Editor’s note: An earlier version of this story stated that Lee’s last tweet was about AsAmNews. It was actually his last Facebook post. We apologize for the error.)
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