By Cindy Hsu

NEW YORK (CBSNewYork) — CBS2 is celebrating the life of photographer Corky Lee, who passed away after fighting COVID-19.

As CBS2’s Cindy Hsu reported, Lee was an icon in the Asian American community, who used his camera to set things right.

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“My mission is to transform America one photograph at a time,” Lee said in a past interview.

Lee was always behind a camera, documenting the Asian American community, from police brutality protests in 1975 to demonstrations fighting for justice.

He also used his camera to shine a light on what’s often left out in the retelling of history, from the Chinese who worked on the Transcontinental Railroad to Asian Americans who served in the military.

Legendary Chinatown photographer Corky Lee died after battling COVID-19. He was known as the unofficial photo laureate of the Asian-American community. (credit: CBS2)

“In all my photographs, I’m trying to include, as vignettes, pages that should be in American history books that have been omitted or taken out,” Lee told Hsu.

“His quote was he used his camera as a sword to combat injustice, indifference and discrimination,” said Karen Zhou, who was friends with Lee.

Lee was born in Queens in 1947 to parents who immigrated from China and ran a hand laundry. He attended Queens College.

“I generally refer to myself as an ABC from NYC. That’s short for American Born Chinese from New York City,” Lee said.

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He loved the community and means so much to so many people.

Hsu spoke with Jennifer Takaki, who’s been working for years on a documentary called “Photographic Justice: The Corky Lee Story”. The team is hoping to release the project soon.

“He transcends generations. He transcends ethnicities,” Takaki said.

Lee helped guide aspiring photojournalists. Even at 73, he kept hitting the street, taking pictures and documenting history.

“Despite being in his seventies and despite a global pandemic and the deaths that were taking place, I think he was really compelled with the Asian Americans who were being harassed in hate crimes,” Takaki said.

Lee worked up until he was diagnosed with COVID in January.

Hsu knew him for nearly 30 years.

Through his photos and the memories of the countless people who knew and loved him, Lee will keep making a difference for generations to come.

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Cindy Hsu