Some 400,000 New Yorkers live in public housing developments in the City. This population forms the economic engine of New York City. Though of modest incomes, these residents have formed vibrant communities, local neighborhoods full of energy and rich in creativity. However, such neighborhoods are often seen only through the prism of journalists and urban planners.
In the Fall of 2010, two dozen apartment dwellers at Manhattanville Development were given simple cameras, trained in photography workshops over a 12-week period, and provided with film development . The effort was financed in large part by building public-private partnerships that involved (1) the New York based world-class photo imaging company, Duggal Visual Solutions; (2) Dell Computers, one of the most respected corporations in America, providing laptop computers at no cost; (3) Seeing for Ourselves, a not-for-profit grassroots participatory photography organization that led the effort and conceived StudioNYCHA; and (4) Kodak, providing over 300 cameras at no cost.
This program, called Developing Lives, represents a current trend in photography providing community residents with the opportunity to take charge of their own narrative, to tell their own stories of life in their own neighborhoods and do so using their own images and words.
Developing Lives was created by George Carrano, volunteering his own time to NYCHA. George has an extensive background in participatory photography, as this trend is known, and as a curator of photographic exhibits. The agency named photographer Chelsea Davis, founder of two participatory arts programs with family roots in NYC public housing, to direct the program.
Now NYCHA’s first round of this effort is completed and Manhattanville provides a model for allowing as many as possible to discover Developing Lives.