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.
The ensuing global success of Project Lives in 2015 attracted the notice of New York's First Lady, and so her nonprofit—the Mayor's Fund to Advance New York City—pointed the three to the Department of Probation (DOP) for their next effort. Equipped with a grant from the National Endowment for the Arts, they linked up with DOP in December 2017, the effort launching the following month.
The new initiative ran until 2021, when it became institutionalized as a permanent offering of DOP. George and Jonathan put together a documentary as the pandemic delayed publication of the companion book.
A Bronx native, filmmaker and editor 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. Following work at the housing authority 2010-2015, Chelsea worked as director of communications for John McEnroe's Tennis Academy before moving on to DOP as the new initiative started up to run the project on the ground. Chelsea left Seeing for Ourselves for a paid position with DOP, her role in the initiative limited to photography instruction.
Born in Manhattan and raised in the Bronx and Queens, filmmaker and editor 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, sharing best practices with 10,000 advertising practitioners in 104 countries. Meanwhile, he has produced highly regarded web, video and collateral for Agent Orange relief. After leaving the housing authority in 2014, Jonathan began consulting to the United Nations in technology communications before moving on to Memorial Sloan Kettering as the pandemic hit NYC in March 2020.
What we do is train and equip participants, put together a manuscript including their strongest work and our own background story, and promote the ensuing book to a global audience. The heavy lift of creating a new public narrative is all on those who signed up, not ourselves.