In his late thirties, Zun Lee discovered that he was not the son of two Korean immigrants to Frankfurt, Germany, as he had believed for most of his life. He was the son of one Korean immigrant—his mother—and a black man he's never met. He's been struggling with this shift in identity ever since, most recently in the form of three documentary projects, Father Figure, Black Love Matters, and Fade Resistance. Each series examines an underrepresented facet of black culture, often actively fighting harmful stereotypes that Lee has encountered.
Before he began practicing photography professionally, Lee posted most of his work to social media. "A lot of people commented that there were some themes emerging," he says in a new episode of Bas Berkhout's excellent photographer profile series, InFrame. Lee continues, "People said, 'You're photographing a lot of fathers, or father-child interactions.' And I said, 'Really?'" Once the pattern had been pointed out to him, he began actively seeking the themes that he had been capturing instinctively.
"Father absence is a highly visible social issue that affects all demographics but is particularly devastating in African-descended communities," Lee writes in the artist statement for Father Figure, now available in book form from Ceiba. "According to census statistics, over two-thirds of black children are raised in single-parent households, the vast majority of them being led by the mother. However, research also shows that black fathers are no less present in their children’s lives than their counterparts of other ethnic groups."
Lee highlights the special non-special moments he finds in his daily encounters, the collection of which amounts to valuable dialogue during Black History Month. He continues, "By showing quiet moments that are often deemed un-newsworthy, I hope this work can help question preconceived notions and present a broader context of black fatherhood. Perhaps it can serve as a counter-narrative to humanize black men as present and competent fathers in a media climate that largely continues to deny this possibility."
Learn more about Lee in Berkhout's video below, peep more of his work under that, and buy his photo book, Father Figure, on the Ceiba website.