Why this photographer collected over 3500 photos of black families

Zun Lee's latest exhibition is made up of more than 1000 found Polaroids of African American families that he's collected over the past four years.

Photographer Zun Lee collected over 3,500 Polaroids of African American Families

6 years ago
Duration 3:55
Toronto-based photographer Zun Lee’s latest exhibition features more than 1,000 found Polaroid photographs of African American families that he’s collected over the past four years.

Toronto-based photographer Zun Lee's latest project is an exhibition of more than 1,000 found Polaroid photographs of African American families that he's collected over the past four years.

Black love and black joy matters and that needs to be seen and foregrounded.- Zun Lee

Lee started collecting Polaroids of African American families after he found an abandoned box of one family's photographs on the sidewalk of an American city in 2012. When his attempts to find the family who had lost the photographs failed, Lee decided to keep them as an archive of African American life, and to look for more. He has now collected over 3,500.

Lee joined forces with Toronto curator Kenneth Montague of Wedge Curatorial Projects to mount the exhibition of Lee's found Polaroids, called "Fade Resistance." The project gives viewers a glimpse into the home photographs and lives of African American families in the '70s, '80s, '90s and '00s. The images present moments that feel familiar, but are underrepresented in the media — two little boys sitting on steps in their bright white sneakers, a mother and her young son posing together in their church clothes, a man and a swaddled newborn exchanging tender smiles.

In this video, Lee tells us the story behind the archive, his very personal motivation for creating this project, and why these photographs are so significant for the representation of black families.

See a selection of them here:

Zun Lee: Fade Resistance. Feb 1-28 at the Gladstone Hotel. 1214 Queen W. Toronto. 416-531-4635.

Watch Exhibitionists Sunday at 4:30pm (5pm NT) on CBC Television.


To encourage thoughtful and respectful conversations, first and last names will appear with each submission to CBC/Radio-Canada's online communities (except in children and youth-oriented communities). Pseudonyms will no longer be permitted.

By submitting a comment, you accept that CBC has the right to reproduce and publish that comment in whole or in part, in any manner CBC chooses. Please note that CBC does not endorse the opinions expressed in comments. Comments on this story are moderated according to our Submission Guidelines. Comments are welcome while open. We reserve the right to close comments at any time.

Become a CBC Member

Join the conversation  Create account

Already have an account?