In a time when famous people of colour can safely assume that they will be asked about #OscarsSoWhite in practically any interview, and when representations of black lives in the media often revolve around tragedy and the response to it, Zun Lee wants to draw our attention instead to "black love and black joy... everyday moments that are very quiet, but at the same time very powerful."
Mr. Lee is a photographer whose most recent exhibit, Fade Resistance at The Gladstone Hotel in Toronto, consists of over 1,000 photos that he did not take.
Four years ago, during the American recession, Mr. Lee stumbled across a box of old Polaroids. He knocked on doors to find the owners, but neighbours couldn't identify the subjects. It wasn't uncommon, he was told, for photos to be left out on the street. Unable to find the owners, he kept the box, and decided to build an archive of African American life as told through similar images.
Thanks to eBay and yard sales, his collection now consists of about 3,500 photographs documenting everything from newborns and family gatherings to hobbies and holidays from the 1970s to the 2000s.
Although Fade Resistance's primary aim is to emphasize the agency of the individuals and families in the photos, Mr. Lee is also acutely aware of the risk of objectification that comes with his exhibitions, telling the CBC, "it weighs on me to not really have the original owners attached to them. They're actual families, who know what these photos meant, and us speculating about them is kind of not OK." He posts his images on social media, hoping that he'll hear from the families to whom they belong, whether it's to reclaim the pictures or to instruct him to remove them from the Internet.
Fade Resistance asks us to consciously confront the vast gap between self-representation of black lives and media narratives about African Americans, and to decide that for all of us, "we are enough as we are".