Corky Lee on My Mind: Bob Hsiang

Bob Hsiang's 1973 portrait of Corky Lee

Corky Lee (1973, NYC)

"I met Corky after college and was living near Chinatown in a collective known as '217 Collective,' says Hsiang. "He was already active in Chinatown housing issues. One day he needed a camera so I lent him my Pentax and he proceeded to use it for documenting substandard housing conditions in Chinatown." 

"This portrait of Corky was made rather unplanned and spontaneously. I also photographed other people in the collective. It was very candid."

Bob Hsiang's photos

Corky edits slides at the Asian Media Collective (1971, 217 Madison Street, NYC)

Co-founded by Corky, the Asian Media Collective was a group of activist photographers and filmmakers. Other members included Hsiang, John Kao, Gordon Lee, and Nancy Hom.

NYC Asian American contingent at a demonstration against the Vietnam War (1973, Washington, D.C.)

On Jan. 20, 1973, Inaugural Day of President Nixon's second term in office, nearly 100,000 people gathered in protest of the Vietnam War, pelting the president's limousine with rocks as it drove by during the parade. Over Christmas Nixon had increased aerial bombing, and demonstrators demanded the end of the war and the signing of a peace treaty. The Paris Peace Accords were signed seven days later, finally ending the war.

Community activist Fay Chew Matsuda and Hsi Fang at the entrance of Basement Workshop (ca. 1971, 54 Catherine Street, NYC)

The Basement Workshop was a loose collective of artists and activists founded around 1969. What would become the center of Asian American East Coast activism and the precursor to organizations like Asian CineVision, the Asian American Arts Centre, and the Museum of Chinese in America, the Basement “acted as an umbrella organization,” says museum curator Ryan Wong in Hyperallergic. “A site where anyone with the interest and determination could organize cultural programs.”

Chen Tian Xuan helps a senior citizen at the Chinatown Food Co-op (1972, 3 Henry Street, NYC)

The Chinatown Food Co-op was founded as a way to provide affordable groceries to low-income Chinatown residents. Chen Tian Xuan is a longtime activist and writer for The China Daily (where Pearl River founder Mrs. Chen also worked for three years).


Bob Hsiang started his photography career in college as a photojournalist for the campus newspaper. Around 1971, he became very involved in the Asian American movement, documenting rallies and demonstrations, Chinatown life and storefronts. In 1974 he moved to San Francisco and continued to photograph Chinatown and the International Hotel which was a rally point for low income housing. A member of Kearny Street Workshop for many years, he documented many of their activities including the Asian American Jazz Festival and other local events in relationship to Japantown and dwindling Manilatown. From the late ‘70s through the ‘80s, he was house photographer for the Asian American Theater Company. In the ‘80s, he started his own business, centering around theater, special events, weddings, and studio photography. Currently he is semi-retired but continues to shoot for select clients. His archives are being scanned and hopefully stored for future use by academia and or interested parties. 


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