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Where's Corky? Thoughts on the third anniversary of his passing

By John Lee, Corky's brother and estate executor for the late Corky Lee

 

Last year, concurrent with the premiere of a long-awaited documentary about my brother, a decal sticker was distributed with the question, “Where’s Corky?”  In part, I suspect it was a play on Corky’s ubiquity at all things relating to the AAPI community. Over the course of his adult life Corky’s camera and presence and impact became a fixture.  His attendance at an event meant something more than the fact of its recording by the “undisputed, unofficial Asian-American Photographer Laureate.” The subjects came to know their efforts were important and that their efforts on whatever the campaign or art mattered. He became the recorder, the historian and the champion for an entire social group(s) that had hitherto been ignored, misrepresented, and forgotten.


Where’s Corky? His body lies beside his beloved wife, Marge in Valhalla, NY. As he rests, Corky’s body of work remains remarkably alive, active, and accessible to community organizations, non-profit and commercial entities.


This April will see the release of his posthumous book, Corky Lee’s Asian America published by Clarkson Potter of Penguin Random House. The book will be accompanied by a national book tour with presentations by book editors Mae Ngai, Chee Wang, and AAPI notables commenting on his work and impact, social, artistically, and politically.


Since Corky’s passing his photographs have helped galvanize and illustrate the unique features of the AAPI experience and contributions to the life and culture of the nation in media installations and productions. To date, the estate has participated in two major exhibitions in 2022 and 2023, at the U.S. District Courthouse in Brooklyn (photo below) and the Chinese American Museum D.C. respectively.



Corky was the subject of two documentary films (2023) that will soon be broadcast to a nationwide audience. His work has been incorporated in the media productions of institutions as diverse as the Obama Center and the NY State Governor’s office. His iconic images have been used in academic and educational materials, from elementary grade-level to post-graduate university theses and books and other teaching materials. The estate continues to field requests for exhibitions, including trade conventions and law schools.




Concurrent with these activities the estate continues its effort to collect, catalog and archive his 50-year body of work and to find a permanent institutional home for his archive. Corky in life often spoke of his camera as a sword to challenge and combat injustice in all its forms. Corky dreamt of having many more swords to educate and inspire progressive change.


What is the answer to the question, Where’s Corky?

He is still with us.

 

 

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