Today, Chinatown’s Asian Arts Initiative opens its show “Into the Picture: Images of Asian Pacific America” by Corky Lee. From now through October 5, visitors to the 12th and Vine Asian Arts Initiative can view photographs by Lee, which powerfully illustrate the evolution and spread of Asian and Pacific Islander communities in the United States.
Corky Lee is a second-generation Chinese American currently based out of New York City. He refers to himself as the “unofficial and undisputed Asian American Photographer Laureate” and judging by his discerning lens, this title is more than a little accurate. Utilizing the perspective of a bystander, Lee captures images of individuals and personal stories within an often chaotic and tumultuous setting. From post-9/11 memorials and police brutality victims to energetic celebrations and performances, Corky Lee’s photographs document some lively and intriguing sides to the Asian and Pacific Islander experience in contemporary American society.
As a photojournalist, Lee was initially inspired back in junior high school by an 1869 photograph marking the completion of the Transcontinental Railroad. The picture failed to include any Chinese American workers despite the fact that a huge portion of the work on the Central Pacific rail relied on Chinese immigrant laborers, many of whom risked their health or sacrificed their lives. Since this time, Lee has aimed to use photography “like a sword” as a means to fight injustice and discrimination.
Concurrent with the Corky Lee exhibition, local photographer Jano Cohen also presents his work in “The Vibrant Community of Philadelphia Chinatown: A Work in Progress.” Cohen documents the current face of Philadelphia’s Chinatown through portraiture. He captures residents as they work and play, and he hopes to draw attention to the complex communities that exist beyond the traditional Chinese gate and restaurants of the famous Philadelphia neighborhood.
The exhibition will extend over two First Friday events, with an opening reception on Friday, September 7 at 6 p.m., in which Jano Cohen will be in attendance to talk about photographing the local Chinatown community. Corky Lee will also visit the Asian Arts Initiative on September 28 at 5:30 p.m. to discuss his work.
Asian Arts Initiative is located at 1219 Vine Street, Philadelphia; 215-557-0455; www.asianartsinitative.org.