As the LA community continuously fights gentrification, food insecurity, discrimination, and other issues, many teens struggle to fit in and find their voice. A nonprofit organization in Boyle Heights, Las Fotos Project, amplifies young voices of girls and gender-expansive youth through mentorship and specialized photography classes.
Located on Cesar Chavez Avenue, the organization seeks to showcase the creativity of young girls’ from communities of color while making their voices heard.
Composed mainly of volunteers, Las Fotos Project equips girls with the physical, mental, and emotional tools to be able to express themselves through photos. The organization has three focus programs each composed of a group of students, mentors, and a teaching artist.
Youth ages 13-18 are welcome to join the three specialized programs offered without any prior photography or camera experience. Students at Las Fotos are loaned Canon DSLR cameras at the start of each class semester free of charge to borrow for the 14-week program.
The three main programs that make up Las Fotos Project are Esta Soy Yo, Digital Promotoras and CEO. Each branch uses a different focus but all programs provide the proper guidance and materials needed by the students.
Esta Soy Yo (This Is Me) focuses on self-exploration through photos and other mixed-media art. Digital Promotoras (Digital Promoters) allows students to utilize photojournalism to identify and bring attention to issues in the surrounding community. The CEO branch is available to those who have been with Las Fotos for more than two semesters as this program gives students leeway on how to use their photography skills in the media industry.
The many volunteers that teach and guide students in each class are a big part of what makes Las Fotos Project possible. Students and mentors develop close relationships throughout the semester at LFP because they are paired 1:1 or 1:2.
Gabrielle Biasi (she/her) has been a mentor at LFP since spring 2022.
Despite initial doubts about lacking the knowledge to be able to mentor others, Biasi said she quickly grew comfortable in the space.
“The longer time I spent in the space the more comfortable with my experiences and what I could bring to the space and that came through community,” Biasi said.
She described having others to relate to in difficult moments. She said being able to relate to other mentors while guiding her mentees in their projects made the space comforting for everyone.
“I felt like I had all this community when I needed it … I’ve gained confidence and relationships that have helped me heal in a lot of ways,” Biasi said. “Being around people that are creating things is very motivating.”
All programs are overseen by the program manager, Diego Torres (he/she/they). Torres said they applied to the Las Fotos team in 2020 in search of a job that allowed them freedom in a creative environment.
Torres quickly made her way from a mentor to a program director after joining Las Fotos. While their job is to oversee the daily operations of all programs, Torres said they go above and beyond to create a supportive environment.
“I think the Las Fotos project has pushed me to look at photography in a more collaborative way,” Torres said. “Making sure that students are supported, that the mentors feel good, questions have answers to them, making sure that people are fed … I view all of this as my artistic practice.”
Torres is constantly in the space listening to students, stocking snacks, making jokes, all while overseeing and directing the programs.
Las Fotos Project strays away from a typical academic environment, giving students creative freedom and needed support.
Emily Bearl (she/her) has been a teaching artist for two semesters at LFP. Bearl said she has more than 20 years of photography experience and wanted to get into teaching, but didn’t have any formal teaching experience.
At LFP, Bearl consistently shares inspiring artists and supports everyone in the class.
“It’s sort of a non-traditional education space,” Bearl said. “There’s a lot of support which is really wonderful.”
Bearl leads the class by helping establish a space students can freely express their interest in their projects with guidance. Showcasing work created by artists such as Deana Lawson, Arlene Mejorado and Nan Goldin gives students insight into techniques and personal topics not typically covered in other photo classes.
Seeing vulnerable artwork created by people who are Black, Indigenous and people of color further establishes acceptance in the space.
Students say they feel welcomed by the atypical classroom approach and quickly become friends with their peers in the space.
Jade Carrera (she/they), a student who has been with Las Fotos for two semesters said it’s comforting to go from “stressing” at school to “an environment where everyone is so welcoming and sweet.”
Carrera reflected on how taking part in Digital Promotoras helped her establish a deeper connection with her neighbor and how impactful the class was “regardless of experience with the camera.”
Las Fotos goes beyond mentoring youth in photography as the organization is consistently involved and contributing to the community. With many partnerships established over time, Las Fotos has been able to collaborate with organizations such as The Academy Museum, The ArtCenter, Ipsy and more.
Partnerships are used to the benefit of students and youth in the community as LFP organizes events for their students/alumni outside of the space as well as art workshops open to the public.
Artist talks, award ceremonies, photo walks, and portrait sessions are just some events previously hosted by LFP that are loved by the students and the public. Along with being actively involved with youth, LFP hosts monthly food distributions showing their love for their neighborhood in Boyle Heights.
Guiding girls and gender-expansive youth through the world of photography, Las Fotos Project is able to make the voices of young people of color heard through their creative expression.
The staff, many volunteers, students, partners and community members that contribute to the organization are able to continue inspiring teens through photo and self-expression.