NY1 continues its celebration of Asian-American artists with a profile of Brooklyn-based photographer Corky Lee, who has changed the history books by chronicling the city's Asian-American community over the last 40 years. Brooklyn Borough reporter Jeanine Ramirez filed the following report.
Corky Lee is busy selecting photographs for his upcoming exhibition at the Queens Museum of Art. His work spans some 40 years. For most of his images, the backdrop is New York, the subject is the Asian and Pacific-American community.
"I document the history because I need to leave it for another generation that I'll never see or hear. If I don't document it, who will?" says Lee. "So I've taken on this quest, kind of like a Don Quixote mission."
Lee says his need to capture Asian-American history came in junior high school, when he learned the Chinese people helped build the Transcontinental Railroad, yet there was not a picture of the workers in his history book.
"I couldn't see any Chinese in that photograph. So I thought, maybe it's because I had poor eyesight or perhaps I needed a magnifying glass. So I went out a bought a magnifying glass and I still couldn't see any Chinese," says Lee.
From the contributions of the Asian community after September 11th, to activist movements and cultural celebrations, Lee photographs all aspects of Asian-American life in the city.
He stays well informed of all the goings-on, because his day job is at a Brooklyn printing press, Expedi Printing, where he helps publish dozens of newspapers and publications.
While Lee has been working at Expedi for 29 years, he has always had his finger on the pulse. Back when Lee was a college student, he saw a disparity in health care in Chinatown and organized a health fair to meet the community's need.
"We created this street fair. We diagnosed 2,500 people in 14 different types of tests," says Lee.
That event in 1971 created a permanent facility, the Charles B. Wang Community Health Center, which is marking its 40th anniversary this year. A commemorative book that was created as part of the celebration features many of Lee's pictures.
It is a history he has worked hard to preserve and ensure that it endures.
"If I start to do this and if other people start to pick up the mantle, it will have a cumulative effect," says Lee.