Originally from Brooklyn, Derek moved to Queens after a serious near-death hit and run car accident in 2008. Today he continues to live life and is a passionate photographer.
A: Tell us a little bit about yourself.
D: My name is Derek Srisaranard. I say Srisaranard pronounced like Swiss cheese, Swissaranard but my dad says Sreesaranard. It’s a ten digit last name that’s like a sentence.
I was born and raised in Midwood, Brooklyn. Before New York, my parents came from California where they met in college there. My mom is from Thailand and my dad is from China and served in the Thai army. My mom works for the Post Office for 30 years and I live with her in Queens. My dad is in Thailand and we talk to each other once in awhile. I traveled to Thailand when I was a little kid then later in my early 20’s.
A: Do you feel you can relate to the people or culture there?
D: In some ways yes but in some ways no because I grew up in Brooklyn and it’s completely different. I can understand the language but I don’t speak it fluently. I took ESL courses and the courses totally wiped it away and there weren’t many Thai kids around to speak to. I can’t really consider myself socially Thai. I hung out with a mix of different Asian ethnicities. I can’t say I feel like the typical Asian.
A: When did you have your car accident?
D: I was 27 years old when I got into a car accident on June 19, 2008 in my neighborhood. I was in Kings County Hospital for 2 months, then Jamaica Hospital for one month and then I was in rehab at Park Terrace Care Center, September to January 2009. After, I was at NYU rehab from March 2009 until July 2011. I didn’t know what happened to me. When I got hit, a couple chased the driver down and told the police. As time progressed, I began to understand how bad the situation was. I have a tendency to sidebar especially after the traumatic brain injury from the accident.
A: What were you doing with your life before your car accident?
D: I was working for the UPS - package sorting, and doing photography gigs. I got into photography in 2000 taking photos of NYC here and there. I’m self-taught. I wanted to do computer programming for video games when I was growing up but I didn’t feel apt to do it so I studied liberal arts at Kingsborough Community College. Today I’m a clerk working through a temp agency since 2015.
I was little bit of an angry kid growing up. Around the time I was in 4th-5th grade, my mother had breast cancer and was going through chemotherapy and my parents were also filing for divorce. As a result of their divorce, they separated and my mom ended up moving to Elmhurst, Queens with a mutual friend, with me and my sister visiting on weekends or whenever possible. I took my anger out in various forms - some writing, some music or a combination of both through lyrics. I got into Hip hop music in the 90’s then got into death metal. I used to play guitar and then bass. I used to do bass & vocals for a band until 2004-2005. When I was 10 or 11years old, my backpack got stolen so my dad trained me in kickboxing. Later on I got into weight training. Now I practice with resistance bars. Before my accident I walked a lot and still do today.
A: Tell us about your photography.
D: My photography varies. Right now I love taking photos of Chinatown as a landscape and of the Chinese American experience. I take photos of trees. I’m partial to how they can fill the frame as nature’s sculptures. I also take photos of street performers and artists in The Sulu Series.
A: What is the Sulu Series?
D: Around early 2000, I heard of the Asian American Writer's Workshop, so I decided to attend an event I read someone was performing at. There I met Taiyo Na, who hosted the event. Coming from the perspective of a musician/performer/entertainer, I was impressed with the acts and did a performance myself doing a piece about a joke amongst my pals (we were stoned and it involved the word poop and somehow that stuck in my head for such a while I figured I had to do a piece on it). From there, I became friends with some of the performers and Taiyo. Later on, Taiyo had mentioned he wanted to do a monthly event. The Sulu Series was a showcase for Asian American performers. Around this time, I was in a band and Toby our drummer, wasn't able to perform as much, so I took up photography as a side hobby with my first DSLR.
There was a sense of pride I took as a performer in any of the forms I did it through, but I got sick of the way the media portrayed Asian Americans at the time. Seeing these performers, I felt I could frame them the right visual way as a "FUCK YOU and YOUR HOLLYWOOD CHINKS, WE ARE ABOVE THAT" manner, and told Taiyo if he did this event, I'd love to photograph the performers. I photographed most of the Sulu Series with a slight delay when a car hit me in June 2008. During the rehabilitation phase at Park Terrace, as I was discovering more about why I was in rehab I was getting more angry about it. I was given a Sulu Series DVD where I found out a fundraiser was done for me and my medical costs. I was taken aback seeing all that love for me. During the rehab phase, love and anger can help motivate you in physical rehab if done in parallel. My sister carrying my wheelchair was a tipping point for me to avoid using a wheelchair - which happened soon after I got more aggressive in physical therapy. There was a clip in which Taiyo quoted me as wanting to photograph Sulu Series while in the hospital, which was another reason I pushed myself in physical rehab. I went from wheelchair bound in September 2008, consciously aware of it to some degree while in Park Terrace, to running a full marathon in November 2009 through the NYU Rusk Rehabilitation's Achilles Heel Club.
A: What do you think about the term people of color?
D: Basically people who are not white and I consider myself a person of color. It’s not a black and white thing it’s an everybody thing. It’s not against white people, it’s how we differentiate ourselves.
A: What message do you want to impart to other people about Asians?
D: Be proud of who you are. We dealt with racism before and if people give you shit, fuck them.