We The

People

The Citizens of NYCHA

in Pictures + Words
A photojournalism project by Rico Washington & Shino Yanagawa

Journalist Rico Washington and photographer Shino Yanagawa fuse their individual
sociocultural experiences and unique perspectives on a vibrant, collaborative palate of insight-
ful photojournalism with We The People: The Citizens of NYCHA in Photos + Words. Inspired by
the documentarian works of Jacob Riis, Dorothea Lange & Paul Taylor, Gordon Parks, and Ruiko Yoshida, Washington and Yanagawa brazenly explore the varied stigmas and stereotypes applied to Blacks and Latinos residing in New York City’s Housing Authority sites.

Inspired by the 2009 nomination and confirmation of former Bronxdale Housing Project resident and Supreme Court justice Honorable Sonia Sotomayer, We The People brazenly explores the var- ied stigmas and stereotypes applied to New York City’s Housing Authority sites and the residents who live in them. Through the indelible mediums of still photography and text, 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 a marginalized populace.

We The People offers and in-depth look at how New York City public housing has impacted soci- ety-at-large by producing some of the world’s most influential and dynamic artists, entrepreneurs, athletes, musicians, politicians, and thinkers. Both former residents of housing projects, Washing- ton and Yanagawa aim to lift the ubiquitous cloak of darkness cast onto the city’s public housing community via candid interviews and photo shoots with over 50 current and former New York City public housing residents. The photo shoots and interviews took place over the course of roughly 15 months (2009-2011) in New York City. The We The People exhibition includes photographs coupled with textual interview excerpts, insightful short-form essays, and video loops.

We The People includes interviews from such revered former NYCHA residents as lauded photog- rapher Jamel Shabazz, esteemed author/ filmmaker/ cultural critic Nelson George, actor/ Hip- Hop artist Yasiin Bey (formerly known as Mos Def), two-time Emmy Award-winning news reporter/ Young Lords co-founder Felipe Luciano, Hip-Hop icon Afrika Bambaataa, Emmy Award-winning filmmaker Dennis Watlington, acclaimed soul singer Sharon Jones (of Sharon Jones & The Dap Kings), and many more.

New York City’s housing projects are home to the humble beginnings of many inspiring success stories. Yet the myriad of sordid urban legends of public housing questions Thomas Jefferson’s idyllic declaration that all men are created equal. Is it in fact contingent upon variables such as race, ethnicity, and socioeconomic background? The objective of We The People is not to elicit pity or sympathy, but to challenge popular notions of these aforementioned neighborhoods without bias via first person interviews with the residents themselves. 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.

In 2010, We The People exhibited at the World Festival of Black Arts & Cultures in Dakar, Senegal. From February to May 2013, the project was on exhibit at the Gordon Parks Gallery in New York City. We The People recently wrapped a six month exhibition at the Brooklyn Historical Society in March 2015. The 2015 exhibit was the subject of a segment on a recent episode of the ABC televi- sion talk show Here And Now with Sandra Bookman as well as a feature story produced by NPR.

Washington and Yanagawa are also in the planning stages of a book project as well as a Debunk The Myth workshop series. In tandem with the New York City Housing Authority (NYCHA), 2011 TED prize winner JR’s Inside Out Project, and 2015 TED prize winner StoryCorps, the workshop series will instruct public housing residents in citizen journalism and interviewing/ photography tech- niques - culminating in photojournalism exhibits and public art projects which utilize photography and text to construct authentic first person narratives for their own communities.