The Sketchbook Project got me stoked on participatory art, and there are few community art projects as impressive as Developing Lives at StudioNYCHA when it comes to self expression. Leveraging photography as the medium to share their perspectives, NYCHA residents are making their voices heard. When the pilot program started back in Fall 2010, it turned out to be a major success. Now the PreTeen program has really taken flight, and the website is full of photos reflecting the everyday lives of the participants. Given a camera, 12 weeks of photography workshops, and access to film development, these kids are churning out much more than snapshots – they’re storytelling, and expressing a point of view.
The photo galleries speak volumes about the importance of relationships in the lives of these young photographers. It’s obvious from the photos that this project brings these artists closer to their subjects and vice versa. Whether friends, family, or pets show up in the pictures, the overarching theme is predominantly about the power of community. The statements the photographers make are full of meaning as well, and serve to give context not only to individual photos, but to the whole project. These picture and caption combinations share the photographers’ values, visions, and dreams.
Developing Lives teaches a great technical skill and offers a fun extracurricular activity for these kids, but it does so much more. Through this photography endeavor, they learn communication skills and self affirmation. They’re encouraged to express themselves, and to give voice to their feelings and desires. These kids are also learning at an early age the power and value of art, both for individuals and communities.