by Cindy Wu
Photojournalism is a different kind of photography. You're not looking
for a beautiful or sensational shot like regular photographers. No
stunning aesthetics. Photojournalism is news. Each picture is meant to
tell a story.
Look at the photo above. You may not know why they were all there but
given the somber looks on their faces, all the American flags, you can
make some accurate assumptions. You can assume they are doing what they
have had to do so often as American Sikhs of Indian origin - try to show
that just because they are not white and just because they wear a turban
as part of their religious faith - they are still Americans.
And that is exactly what this shot is about. After 9/11, when Sikhs
immediately became targets of hate crimes by racists thinking they were
Muslim terrorists, they rallied together in Central Park on 9/15 to show
all Americans that they were Americans too.
Corky Lee won the NY Press Association Award for that shot in 2001.
Lee came into the Media Suite in SAC for his talk on March 24th and
silently hung 18 of his photos on the wall. Then he asked each
participant to put two post-its on the photo they most wanted him to
least one post-it ended up on almost every photo, so he started
with the one with the most first and then worked his way down.
Each one described some point in Asian American history in New
York. Although it is where most of us grew up, none of us knew
any of it.
Did we know that the streets in NYC were filled with Chinese Americans
protesting police brutality? No. Did we know that the streets of
Chinatown and by City Hall were filled with Chinese Americans protesting
that Confucius Plaza at least be built with some Chinese workers? No. At
least we learned it was a successful protest.
He then gave us Asian American history in a larger framework that
encompassed the country.
How Chinese Americans had built the western half of the transcontinental
railroad but when the photo was taken at Promontory Point joining east
and west, there was not one Chinese in the photo. Corky Lee recreated
that photo with only Chinese faces to include Asians in the telling of
the American story. None of us knew that either.
How a Chinese American, Vincent Chin, had been beaten to death with a
baseball bat in Detroit simply because of his race - that to white
Americans - not only are Asian Americans the "other", there is no
distinction between them. Vincent Chin, a Chinese American, was killed
because they thought he was a "Jap" and it was the "Japs" who had
destroyed the American auto industry. The two men who did it never spent
a day in jail. None of us knew that either.
I asked some of the participants what they thought of the talk and here
were their responses:
What struck me about the images was their portrayal of people. From the
silent stolidity of the Sikh shrouded in the American flag to the
commanding calm of the Chinese women campaigning for equal rights, each
one of Corky Lee's photographs centered the expressions and embodiment
of Asians in America. Despite their varying ages, all of them captured
vibrant moments from a history all too often obscured.
During the discussion, I found it interesting when Mr. Lee spoke about
integrating signs and symbols in his photography to provide context. The
technique was aptly demonstrated in his work. You would not need a
caption to understand their context.
Floating against the pale peach walls of the SAC Media Suite, Corky
Lee's photographs provided glimpses into moments of Asian American
history and into Mr. Lee's life work to overturn what he calls the
"invisibility of Asians in the media."
One photograph in particular caught my eye: a turbaned Sikh man with a
large American flag draped around his shoulders stares seriously at the
viewer. I love how the red of his turban and the white of his shirt are
reflected in the colors of the flag--it was taken sixteen years ago at a
9/11 vigil, but the question of what it means to be American is still
And looking at his photos, I found myself realizing that whatever being
American means it should not exclude the Asian American community.
Corky Lee offered impressive insight into the significance and
importance of Asia American photojournalism. I learned that composition
and context are vital factors in documentary photography. These are
skills that I will use in the future.
After attending the Corky Lee workshop I was inspired to do
photojournalistic photography. I really enjoyed the videos that he
showed. I think that everyone should know more about Asian American
events occurring, keep up with what is going on, as well as the history
that has occurred in our communities. There's so much history I never
The videos were
Not On the Menu: Corky Lee's Life and Work
Our Time Is Now: AAPI Influence
I agree with Patrick about that. Everyone should take an Asian American
studies class. It would be great if Stony Brook offered a real one every
semester, or at the very least, every year. Given that over 25% of Stony
Brook's students are Asian American, why we don't is a mystery.
As a CEAS major (and unfortunately most Asian American students are CEAS
or STEM with double majors to be able to get full TAP), without lots of
wiggle room for extra courses, I would like one simple Asian American
Not Asian American women, not Chinese American (even though I am
Chinese), just an Asian American History 101 - so that when the question
is asked -
Who is Vincent Chin? - I'm not left dumbfounded finding out about
the brutal murder of a young man whose death inspired Asian Americans to
rise up for their rights and gave birth to the Asian American Studies
We were supposed to have an Asian American Studies program at Stony
Brook but courses are few and far between. Last semester one of the Zine
staff, Lucy Kong, took what was supposedly an Asian American history
course and while she really loved it and the professor, it was really a
women's studies course.
Here's what Berkeley offers. Since we're supposed to be the "Berkeley of
the East" - this will do just fine.
comparative analysis of the Asian American experience from 1848 to
present. Topics include an analysis of the Asian American perspective;
cultural roots; immigration and settlement patterns; labor, legal,
political, and social history.
Stony Brook needs its own
Asian American Studies movement!
And I think that is what we learned the most from Corky Lee's talk. Not
only are we part of America, we deserve to be seen and recognized as
part of America.
articles and videos on Corky Lee