George Carrano, Chelsea Davis, and Jonathan Fisher took an eye-opening journey into New York's housing projects. It struck them that if trained and equipped to document project life from the inside, the residents could open other eyes as well. And potentially change the way Americans view those who rely on public housing.
A Bronx native, GEORGE CARRANO founded the non-profit Seeing for Ourselves, which brought the Developing Lives photography program to New York’s housing authority in 2010. He has also curated exhibits of war photojournalism and participatory photography that The New York Times termed “poignant” and “not to be missed.” Earlier, George raised the bar for public transit at the Metropolitan Transportation Authority, inventing passenger displays that became the industry standard; leading the agency to just-in-time logistics; and implementing MetroCard — this last a $2 billion subway token replacement whose success awed New York and has remained one of the largest public work projects in US transportation history, universally judged a city milestone.
A born Brooklynite with family roots in New York public housing, photographer and teacher CHELSEA DAVIS helped create and then directed the Developing Lives photography program at the New York City Housing Authority. She had earlier created a participatory art class for the city’s Association for Metro-Area Autistic Children (2004). Building on its success, Chelsea established the Project Picasso program three years later in the pediatric oncology ward of St. Louis Children’s Hospital, providing art therapy to young children struggling with cancer. The program continues to operate.
Born in Manhattan and raised in the Bronx and Queens, JONATHAN FISHER administered the Developing Lives photography program at the New York City Housing Authority, managing its extension into award-winning video. Trained in transportation science, he had made his mark at the city’s transit agency by producing products likewise award-winning that delighted millions of passengers. Jonathan also handled technology communications within Madison Avenue’s Ogilvy & Mather, communicating best practices to 10,000 advertising practitioners in 104 countries. Meanwhile, he has produced highly regarded web, video and collateral for Agent Orange relief.
Were we three at all uneasy about our role as outsiders directing this effort? Nine in ten project residents define themselves as minorities, but none of us do. Certain of our family roots may lie in the projects, but noneof us would now qualify.
The very process made the issue moot. In the jargon of the day, ProjectLives empowers customers. The participants made it plain that who empowered them mattered not at all.