Here at Lomography we have recently partnered up with Asian Archives in support of their goals to uplift Asian American and Pacific Islander visual artists. The project is expected to have a rotating exhibition going on over several months, with a pool of AAPI photographers showcasing work. We got to talk to founders Jonathan Bach, William Oh, and Sissi Lu for the first scoop on the project and the current open call.
Hello, could you tell us a bit about yourselves and how you came to work on the Asian Archives project? What sparked your initial idea to start Asian Archives?
Jonathan Bach: Hello! Name’s Jon. I’m a Korean-American artist and photographer based in NYC who is very passionate about uplifting people and communities. I co-founded Greater, a full-service design agency that specializes in helping purpose-driven brands succeed. I am also a board member of Roads to Success, a 501c3 nonprofit that mentors and supports the diverse youth of the city.
William Oh: I am a Korean-American artist and photographer, based out of NYC. Although my work throughout time has been varied, recent events have moved me to focus more on highlighting the Asian and Pacific Islanders and other minority communities in my work.
Sissi Lu: I’m a film photographer based in New York City. My work focuses on capturing the empathetic nature of humanity in a time with a huge generational and cultural divide.
You might have seen my portrait series of older people in the streets of NYC using my Hasselblad 500CM, where I interview the older peers for their advice to the younger generation.
Jonathan: So, how did we get started? I started working on Asian Archives in February of 2021. It was probably the moment in time where news of anti-AAPI incidents across the US exploded, picking up pace after the start of the pandemic. I remember hearing news that Vicha Ratanapakdee and other AAPI elders were being attacked. Like all murder, it was senseless and unnecessary, but these particular cases hit very close to home. Like many cultures, my Korean roots demand respect for those older than us—the events that led to their injuries and deaths were not only appalling, but inspired within me a form of anger I denounce. For a time, I sat there stoic, not out of passivisim, but in hopes to hold onto pacifism.
At the time, the news coverage wasn’t great. We needed more press, more action, and more allies. I wanted to do something, but I’m not really an activist and I didn't have a platform. So, I started working on something in the only way I knew how to… sharing stories. The theory was a simple one: Could we increase everyone’s exposure to API narratives? Would doing so help us reclaim our own stories, our own identities, and move us out of the bucket of the misunderstood “other?”
Sissi: William pitched the idea of curating a gallery show to highlight AAPI visual artists. As a minority in the photography industry, I couldn’t be more honored to use my platforms and resources to create a space for people to discover more AAPI artists.
Jonathan: Completely agree and super thankful to William for inviting me to be a part of this too. In 2022, Asian Archives is relaunching as a platform for storytellers, starting with film photographers. We’re so excited for all the things to come.
Could you tell us about what Asian Archives is striving to achieve?
Asian Archives’ mission is a simple one: tell our stories and tell them more often. Become our own home for our narratives and memories. By doing so, we hope to replace existing API stereotypes and tropes with entirely new narratives, bursting with the diverse experiences and views of our people.
Our first major step is a group exhibition that we are planning for the end of the year. We hope to gather photographers and be a platform for them to share their work and how they see the world. I think photography is one of those magical things that offer so much perspective about the artist, the subject, and the time period in which the image was made.
We have a lot of aspirations for this initiative. Next year, during AAPI Heritage month in May, we plan to create even more activations and uplift more artists.
What did the early steps in starting the project entail?
Right now, we’re very much focused on spreading our mission and identifying photographers who would be interested in connecting with us.
Could you tell us about your own personal work and experience in the photography industry? How does it tie into the project?
William: I started off as a portrait and fashion photographer, primarily. As I moved along in my journey, I became deeply interested in conveying human emotion. A primary example of this would be from my classical music background. I observed ballerinas reacting to the music I played, or how audiences took in a symphonic work. Thus, I often note small expressions, motions, and general physiognomy in my work.
I seek out minority subjects across the spectrum, because I feel like I connect with them. Many times our stories are similar.
Jonathan: My photography is always a work in progress, but that’s something I love about it—I adore the craft. I almost exclusively shoot film with my subject matter ranging from landscapes to the street. The images I am most proud of are probably the quick-in-the-moment shots of subjects living their lives in NYC.
Some of my more recent favorite photos come from NYC's first AAPI Heritage Parade this past May. Something I saw that impacted me deeply were these Korean American veterans of the Vietnam War marching in the procession. I can't imagine what it must have been like to fight in that war and have to endure the racism and prejudice that was probably coming from all sides.
Sissi: My on-going portrait project “A Word to The Young” (alt title “Gifts of Wisdom”) came from a deep rooted cultural appreciation to the older generation. Growing up in China, I was taught to always respect my elders. However, when I moved to the U.S., I realized that the elderly community is being treated very differently here, and my heart hurts to see that they are not being cared for.
I hope by photographing and interviewing the people in this project, I can show the younger generation to not brush away older people because of their appearance, and I want to inspire the viewers to know the beauty and grace comes from age. The other message is for the older generation, to remind them not to forget the importance of their legacy and never to be ashamed of their age.
Even with the cultural difference, I know that we all crave for human connections. I hope to use my cultural background and creative vision to bring people together via art. More importantly, I hope to encourage people like me to do the same.
What are you looking for in artists who are interested in applying for the eventual open call?
The art is the most important thing. We're not interested in followers or the usual vanity metrics. We really want to see what the artists have made, why they've made it, and what all of it means to them.
For more information, please see our Submission page.
How would you describe what it means to show support for API artists?
Engage with our work first. This can be done with a simple like on Instagram and can go as far as sharing the work with others. And if you are able, buy art from API artists. At the end of the day, this is what helps us create more because it makes our storytelling sustainable.
Let's make sure everyone interested has all the info: Please share all the dates and details about the open call & exhibition.
Submissions are open on August 1st and end August 31st. We'll be spending the month of September going through all the applications and will have the exhibition in the late fall.
What are your hopes and expectations for what will come out of the project?
We have a lot of hope. Three things that would be amazing to see: 1. We encourage more API people to share their stories and art, which would help break stereotypes; 2. Have more API artists feel seen and heard; 3. to create a space for people to discover more AAPI artists.