Bringing It Home: For ‘Project Lives,’ Public-Housing Residents Pick Up Cameras

Aaliyah Colon, Manhattanville, 2A, 0103, from Project Lives. PUBLISHED BY POWERHOUSEBOOKS/©AALIYAH COLON

Aaliyah Colon, Manhattanville, 2A, 0103, from Project Lives.


Ever wonder whether kids see the same things we do when looking around their environment? From their diminutive physical vantage point and their experiential one as well, things must look different.

Well, George Carrano, Chelsea Davis, and Jonathan Fisher wanted to find out how children living in public housing, as well as some mature residents, perceive and interpret their surroundings. To that end, they invited residents at a project in New York’s Manhattanville neighborhood to attend a 12-week workshop and then, armed with disposable cameras supplied by Kodak, with Duggal Visual Solutions printing the film at cost, the participants were sent forth to photograph their world. The results have been published by PowerHouse Books in a volume called Project Lives.

Fifteen amateur photographers expressed their visions wordlessly, in images, and often vividly, in prose that accompanies them. Christian Jimenez, for one, writes “My cousin Alissa likes being bossy because she thinks she is ‘propeller.’” And she likely is popular, judging from her sweet but almost devilish expression as she poses with her Razor scooter.

Susana Ortiz has an eye for striking compositions, with a shot of her turtle on a box atop the toilet seat and a probably-antique clock with two owls in attendance on the lid of the toilet’s tank. She writes, “I feel happy when I take pictures of my turtle and I put my turtle in a box. Be careful you don’t fall to the floor, that would hurt!” In another image she creates a tableau that features her real cat among her toys, an ancient TV, and other precious possessions. She writes, “On Christmas I photograph my cat and I dance with my cat. Dance ballerina, because you like the music. She likes that I dance and I feel content. She is as happy as a person. I love my cat.”

The book also contains a lot of serious stuff: “422,639 backlogged repairs (2013),” for example, and heartfelt stories such as that of a little boy who lost his footing trying to escape a stuck elevator. In 2015, “5% of New Yorkers live in the projects.”

As Jared Wellington says, in accompanying his photo of two long shadow figures with a longer-still parking sign, “The neighborhood I am in is so surprising. Anything can happen, good or bad. The sun rises on our faces.”

And that’s not all. No, that’s not all.

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