Cover of "Seeing the Light: Four Decades in Chinatown" by Dead Wong • Courtesy image
Cover of “Seeing the Light: Four Decades in Chinatown” by Dead Wong • Courtesy image

“You just have to live and life will give you pictures,” Henri Cartier-Bresson, a humanist photographer, once said.

With Bresson’s quotation, so the journey begins. It is an exodus interweaving the words and images of Seattle’s own Dean Wong in Seeing the Light: Four Decades in Chinatown, published by Chin Music Press. It is a journey universal in nature yet specific in action. It embodies the search to find one’s own place in the world, the struggle to find home and the discovery of the significance of what is community.

As a photographer, journalist, and artist, Wong guides us on this vision quest through interwoven first person stories and poetically crafted images captured in the “Cartier-Bresson decisive moment.” In this mix, Wong creates contextualized slices of life that actually are more expansive than the moments in time that Bresson originally addresses. The vignettes showcased amass into a whole that carries us through the pages of the book and engages us emotionally and intellectually; subsequently reverberating as a social discourse. The balance of words, images and insight is very powerful. A balance that only Wong can achieve.

Through the four decades of his discourse, Wong’s perception has been refined as a native son, resident, journalist, photographer, artist, and community activist. What links us through the four decades and the five different Chinese communities is a consciousness bound together by a shared culture, ethnic identity, and economic struggle. This is an experience that is not exclusive to the Chinese in America but one that Wong presents as shared across ethnic, gender, and generational lines and speaks of a universality woven into a fabric of a new and old American experience.

The photographs are rich in meaning with edge-to-edge details and juxtapositions both poignant and ironic. We are privy to a view akin to a fly on the wall with the ability to allow the action to unfold before us and open a space of greater insight.

The stories speak to an undercurrent of lifeblood, flowing through the crowded streets and cramped work and living spaces. Stories that expand the scope and break the general misconceptions of Chinatowns. They speak to a vibrant community and place; a home. For instance, the stories of Epigina and Jesus Fernandez at the Bush Hotel, photographer Henry Takayoshi, Ryan Rhinehart and of Wong’s own family are just a few that speak so loudly, so quietly yet so resoundly. The layers are multifaceted as images speak contrapuntally to the stories and at times reflect but work in parallel. At other times they intersect directly; but all ultimately flow together in a discourse sublimely in motion.

"Boy in Canton Alley #4" by Dean Wong • Courtesy image
“Boy in Canton Alley #4” by Dean Wong • Courtesy image

This book is a gem. A discourse I personally did not want to end. Having had the great fortune of seeing Wong’s photographs on a weekly basis and reading his stories over the past 25 years I wish there was room for more.

Be sure to check out Wong’s upcoming show “New Street Photography” at the Jack Straw Media Gallery located on 4261 Roosevelt Way NE beginning on June 17.

Also check out the Snapshots In Time Flickr Gallery of the International Examiner to see more work: https://www.flickr.com/photos/examinerarchives/albums. You could also check out the Examiner’s Digital Archives for Dean’s stories: https://iexaminer.org/digital-archives. And finally, be sure to check the Arts Etc. for more upcoming events involving Dean.

For more Arts, click here

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