Armed with a Kodak camera, residents take charge of their self-image in one of the largest participatory photography projects yet
In 2010, several hundred residents of the rotting red brick buildings that occupy New York became owners of a new Kodak camera. The catch? They would undergo a 12-week photography course, a ‘social-art project’ of sorts, to produce a book reflecting their lives through a lens. TitledProject Lives, the outcome, produced by over 200 kids, teens and seniors, is a visual documentation of the current living situations for medium and low-income New Yorkers.
Built in the early 1930s, the towered block buildings represented a low-earning community who wanted a better quality of life. Fast forward a few decades and the buildings are fighting connotations of crumbling and cramped front rooms, playgrounds that are now firearm targets, and 27th-floor apartments that launch giant jars of Mayonnaise from their windows at the NYPD. These are the kind of media-fed stereotypes that prompted the editors’ of Project Lives to take aim at breaking down the negative perceptions.
From an image of a daughter peeping through the door while waiting for her mum to return home from a date – to young cousins describing themselves as ‘brothers’ – it’s clear community is at “Nychaland’s” heart. (A hood that is more populated than cities like Boston and Seattle.) Not crime, poverty, or any other stigma that comes unfairly attached to social housing. By putting the camera in the hands of the residents, Jonathan Fisher, one of the editors of the Project, hoped it would let ‘the people’, instead of Hollywood, take charge of their public personas.
Project Lives, published by PowerHouse books, is available now. All royalties from the sale of Project Lives will be donated to resident programs at the New York City Housing Authority