Monday, February 8, 2016

FADED: Zun Lee's Polaroids explore fatherhood and his own dad's absence

Text | Brad Wheeler for The Globe and Mail
Published | Friday, February 5, 2016

His father isn’t in the picture. At the Gladstone Hotel, the photographer and documentarian Zun Lee stands among the sea of mounted Polaroids that comprise Fade Resistance, an exhibition of snapshots portraying African-American families in the 1970s, 1980s and later. Occupying the rooms and common spaces of the second floor, the collection represents a curatorial project of Mr. Lee and Kenneth Montague that involves vernacular photography and an attempt to present an alternative to the dysfunctional-black-family stereotype.

Polaroid photography represents a peculiar piece of pop-art history, come-and-go technology and scrapbook nostalgia. Popularized in an era when photo development entailed considerable rigmarole, the processing of Polaroids happened in presto fashion, right in one’s hands.

On the surface, the rich assemblage of pictures is unremarkable. But, like the magic of the process itself, in speaking to Mr. Lee, a fuller picture develops gradually. Although the shots represent the significant events and everyday life situations of others, Mr. Lee’s own story is part of the narrative – a narrative that involves an alienated son, interracial bonding and a well-hidden family secret.

“This is my truth,” Mr. Lee says. “I’m not trying to create the antithesis of anything. It’s my version of what I saw and lived.”

Growing up in Frankfurt, Germany, young Zun Lee was looked after by the African-American families of U.S. soldiers stationed on a military base near his own home.

“I was a latch-key kid,” explains Mr. Lee, 46, whose South Korean parents were busy working. “Most of the German kids didn’t want to play with me, so I gravitated to the black families of military personnel. There was a lot of parenting and love and kinship happening with them that I wasn’t getting from my own parents.”

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