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We The People: The Citizens of NYCHA in Pictures & Words

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We The People: The Citizens of NYCHA in Pictures & Words
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A photojournalism project exploring stigma, self-identity, and transcendence in relation to Blacks and Latinos living in NYC's public housing.


Journalist Rico Washington and photographer Shino Yanagawa fuse their individual sociocultural experiences and unique perspectives on a vibrant, collaborative palate of insightful photojournalism with We The People: The Citizens of NYCHA in Photos + Words.

Inspired by the documentarian works of Jacob Riis, Gordon Parks, Ruiko Yoshida, Timothy Greenfield-Sanders and Elvis Mitchell, Washington and Yanagawa brazenly explore the concept of second-class citizenship as applied to blacks and Latinos residing in New York City's Housing Authority sites. Through the indelible mediums of still photography and journalism, the complexities at the crossroads of self-identity, stigma, struggle, and transcendence are skillfully examined. At the impetuous hands of yellow journalism, sensationalist media, and political baiting tactics, residents of housing projects have endured decades of disdain from larger society.

We The People functions as a redemption song for the stereotyped and the stymied. We The People features interviews and photographs of such notable former NYCHA residents as author/ filmmaker/ cultural critic Nelson George, lauded photographer Jamel Shabazz, Young Lords co-founder/ original Last Poets member/ Emmy award-winning news reporter Felipe Luciano, Hip-Hop artist/ actor Mos Def, venerable jazz musician/ recording artist Olu Dara, author/ Emmy award-winning filmmaker Dennis Watlington, Hip-Hop artist/ music industry CEO Buckshot, Hip-Hop icon Afrika Bambaataa, and many more. 

Both former residents of housing projects, Washington and Yanagawa aim to lift the ubiquitous cloak of darkness cast onto the city's housing projects through candid interviews and photo shoots facilitated over the course of 12 months in various housing projects throughout New York City's five boroughs. The aforementioned interviews and photo shoots will culminate in a traveling exhibition, which will include 50 photographs, printed interview excerpts, and insightful short-form essays. Exhibitions are being planned for various national and international cities such as Tokyo, Rio de Janeiro, Chicago, and San Francisco. In addition to a documentary film project, a prospective book project replete with expanded interviews and other extras is also in the works. A percentage of the proceeds from the sale of photos, essay booklets, and the prospective book project will be donated to community-based organizations spearheaded by interviewees that directly enrich and improve the lives of NYCHA residents.  

Though urban legend has long reigned supreme over New York City's housing projects, they are contemporaneously the sites of the humble beginnings of many inspiring stories of success. Yet the Senate Judiciary Committees 2009 confirmation hearings for former Bronxdale Housing Project resident and Supreme Court associate justice the Honorable Sonia Sotomayer begs to question if Thomas Jefferson's idyllic declaration that all men are created equal is in fact contingent upon variables such as ethnic and socioeconomic background.

The objective of We The People is not to elicit pity or sympathy, but to challenge popular thought concerning these aforementioned neighborhoods. On the wings of sustainability, ingenuity and hope, We The People is a testament to those who have weathered the storms from urban blight to urban renewal. Through these collected stories, a genuine document of the marginalized and the maligned emerges. From 2 storytellers, 5 boroughs, 12 months, and 50 citizens comes We The People: The Citizens of NYCHA in Pictures + Words

We The People had the honor of being chosen for exhibition at the 3rd World Festival of Black Arts & Cultures held in Dakar, Senegal in December of 2010. We The People also received a grant from the Lower Manhattan Cultural Council, exhibited at the Gordon Parks Gallery in New York City in 2013, and is currently on exhibit at the Brooklyn Historical Society in New York City (September 2014 - March 2015). The exhibitions have received coverage in various local press (TV, radio, print).

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