Corky Lee, Jamaica High School: Photographer and Journalist
Corky Lee first started doing photography as a young student. He couldn’t afford to buy his own camera– admittedly, because he spent all his money going on dates– so he borrowed cameras whenever he could get his hands on them to practice. Through his work, Corky aims to make Asian Americans more represented in mainstream media. Former Mayor David Dinkins named May 5, 1988 “Corky Lee Day” to honor and recognize his work for the communities in New York City.
Corky studied American History at Queens College. He saw a photo in an American History textbook that depicted workers on the transcontinental railroad at Promontory Summit, Utah– a group that, in real life, was almost entirely made up of Chinese workers– and included not a single Chinese person in the picture. He saw this as an erasure of history: “History — at least photographically — says that the Chinese were not present,” Corky says.
In response to that misrepresentative photo, Corky staged a retake of the famous shot by gathering some of the descendents of the Chinese railroad workers in the same spot as the original photo.
Throughout his life, Corky noticed that Asian history was repeatedly left out of conversations, prompting him to make a change through focusing his photographic work on making his culture more visible in the media both through political and everyday photos. He is the self-proclaimed “undisputed unofficial Asian American Photographer Laureate.”
Corky won the 1993 Special Recognition Award from the Asian American Journalists Association, 2002 New York Press Association Award, 2008 Pioneer Award from the Organization of Chinese Americans, and 2009 Susan Ahn Award for Civil Rights and Social Justice for Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders from the Asian American Journalists Association. Corky was Artist-In-Residence at Syracuse University in 1993, New York University’s Asian/Pacific/American Studies Program & Institute in 2002, and UCLA in 2014.