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Memory & Archive: What Found Family Photographs Say About Black Visual Representation

What happens to family photographs when the original owners lose them and once-private images come into public circulation? What shifts occur in what they represent - both as objects and as vehicles for meaning?

In 2012, Zun Lee found his first set of African American family snapshots in Detroit. Dubbed Fade Resistance, this collection of orphaned images has since grown to over 3,000 Polaroids. Depicting every facet of Black family life from the 1970s to the early 2000s, Fade Resistance illuminates how Black communities codified their own lives to generate specific meaning, and how recent social justice movements may help decode that context even if the original meaning is no longer accessible to us.

Join physician, visual artist and educator Zun Lee, as he shares a brief historical overview of the theory and practice of found photography. He argues for a recontextualization of the ways we look at found photographs beyond static sites of past memory and personal meaning. Using Fade Resistance, he invites us regard found photographs as relational prompts, and memory as a dynamic and social process that actively influences contemporary Black (self-) representation and identity formation. 


Zun Lee is a Canadian photographer, physician and educator whose practice revolves around the visual relevance of quotidian Black life. He is a 2018 Knight Foundation Grantee, 2017 Art Gallery of Ontario Artist in Residence, and a 2015 Magnum Foundation Fellow. He is currently in Charlotte, working with Jessica Moss’ The Roll Up, a Knight Foundation-funded artist residency that aims to activate Charlotte’s Westside with arts and culture interventions.

Lee’s work has been shown in various solo and group exhibits in North America and Europe and is featured in public and private collections in the US and Canada. He has given talks at Portland Art Museum, The New School, University of Chicago, University of Toronto, Annenberg Space for Photography, International Center of Photography, UNC Chapel Hill, NYU, Columbia University, and Duke University.

Selected honors and awards include: Knight Foundation Grant (2018), Ontario Arts Council Grantee (2018), Canada Arts Council Grantee (2017), Magnum Foundation Fellow (2015), Photo District News Photo Annual Winner (2015), Paris Photo/Aperture Photobook Awards Shortlist (2014), Photo District News’ 30 New and Emerging Photographers to Watch (2014).