From 2010 to 2013, the Project Lives program was a 12-week photography course, offering the skills and equipment for tenants of NYC's housing projects to learn photography.
On April 7, a beautiful 135-page book called Project Lives will be released by powerHouse Books, bringing their pictures together for an unprecedented and intimate look into the lives of New York City public housing residents.
Each week, participants were given a disposable camera to use throughout the week and hand in at the beginning of the following class. Film was processed and photographs were returned to the participants the following week. As we say in the book, youngsters were puzzled by the absence of the 'delete' feature.
All the photos display optimism, courage, and dignity. Contrary to the fears of the housing authority, there were no photographs of stopped toilets or crime scenes. The participants photographed what was important to them, and this was pride in their homes and in their lives.
The participants loved the course, they enjoyed mastering a skill, they were thrilled to express their own artistic vision of their lives. Beyond this, some seniors appreciated the difference between the photographs they set out to take and those appearing in the media; 'Our lives are not like that,' they'd say. These photos are completely different from those normally displayed by the media about project life.
The program formally came to and end in 2014 as a new administration at the agency considered its options. So we then decided to focus on getting the existing photographs seen by more people, to having this change more minds, and to kick-start renewed government support. It will take a book to achieve critical mass and change the national image of public housing and its residents.