Google Doodle Honors Corky Lee, Photographer of Asian-American Life
Visitors to Google today will see a striking Google Doodle celebrating the life and work of photographer Corky Lee.
In honor of Asian Pacific American Heritage Month, Google is highlighting Lee’s lifetime of photography and powerful activism. May 5 also holds special significance because the date was proclaimed “Corky Lee Day” in honor of Lee’s work and contributions to New York City’s communities in 1988.
A Chinese American photographer, journalist, and activist, Corky Lee was born in 1947 in Queens, New York City, to Chinese immigrant parents. “When he was in school as a young boy, he learned about the transcontinental railroad in social studies class. During the lesson, he saw a photo that celebrated the completion of the railroad — but noticed a lack of representation for the thousands of Chinese laborers who helped build it. Lee later shared that this event inspired his life’s work. He went on to teach himself photography and attended Queens College to study history,” Google explains.
Throughout his life, Lee captured powerful moments from countless protests and demonstrations. He dedicated his life to representing the efforts of the Asian Pacific American community, including its members’ achievements and struggles.
One of Lee’s most notable photographs showed young Chinese American Peter Yew as he was dragged away by police in 1975. Yew’s “crime” was intervening to protect a 15-year-old boy being beaten by police following an alleged traffic violation. Police then assaulted Yew, and Yew was subsequently charged with numerous offenses, including assaulting an officer.
Lee’s photo of Yew helped inspire a response from thousands of Chinatown residents who gathered to protest police brutality. Lee’s images of the protests remain just as powerful and vital decades later.
Throughout his life, Corky Lee’s photographs were published in many publications, including Time Magazine, The New York Times, New York Post, and many more. He received numerous awards and was the subject of many exhibitions.
ABC 7 in New York writes, “Lee would often say his camera was his sword to combat racial injustice,” adding that a 2022 Exhibit, “Photographic Justice: A Tribute to Corky Lee,” also included the works of 31 fellow photographers all inspired by Lee, and who aim to honor him by carrying his legacy forward.
Corky Lee died at age 73 in January 2021 following complications from COVID-19. ABC 7 reports that it’s suspected that Lee contracted the illness that would claim his life while patrolling Chinatown to protect its residents from anti-Asian violence.
Today’s Google Doodle was made possible with the help of Corky Lee’s brother, John “Johann” Lee, and E. Samantha Cheng.
“Throughout our childhood, our parents expounded upon the importance of doing the right thing. Simply because it was the right thing to do and carried with it an implicit call to action. Perhaps they were prescient in giving Corky his Chinese name (Lee Young Kuo). Loosely translated it means, ‘to praise,’ ‘uplift the nation,’ and so he did. Through his lens, he gave Americans of Asian descent their history, pride, and dignity and reminded all Americans of Asian contributions to the national American mosaic. Corky raised the consciousness not only of his camera’s subjects but that of the nation as well,” says John “Johann” Lee.
E. Samantha Cheng, the founder and executive producer of Heritage Series LLC and APA Legacy, adds, “Although Corky is gone, his life’s work and passion live on in his photographs. Through his commitment to raising the visibility of all Asians and their contributions to America, his images have become tools to combat racism and bias and proof that we are all Americans.”
Additional information about Corky Lee’s life, work, and vigilance in bringing the Asian American Pacific Islander community is available in a Google Arts and Culture article.
Google has honored photographers with special Google Doodles before, including one for a father of photography, Louis Daguerre in 2011, a tribute to street photographer Robert Doisneau in 2012, and a Doodle that celebrated photography pioneer Anna Atkins in 2015.
Image credits: Google