Las Fotos Project epitomizes “Girl Power.” This emerging girl gang, photo-club represents the next wave of conscious, unapologetic, womxn who value the importance of documenting their own cultures with a creative and evocative approach.
Since their founding in Boyle Heights in 2009, this non-profit organization has empowered girls between the ages of 11 and 18 to use photography as a tool for community advocacy, cultural documentation, and self-awareness. Through mentorship, girls gain the confidence to express their individual creative abilities and define their own art.
The organization partners with educational centers and schools in East and South Los Angeles, Highland Park, Westlake, and has even spread its reach into the countries of Mexico and Venezuela. At these sites, Las Fotos Project mentors facilitate workshops within semester-based programs where the educational component takes on a multiculturalist approach that contributes to the girls’ understanding and respect for each other’s identities, health, and social conditions.
Notable program, Esta Soy Yo (This Is Me), teaches girls visual communication skills as a tool for healthy self-expression and focuses on self-identity. Digital Promotoras (Digital Promoters) uses social media, photojournalism, and multimedia to raise awareness of the health disparities facing the girls’ communities while promoting resources to address these issues. Exchange is a unique, cross-cultural online program that establishes the arts as a common language among girls from diverse communities, and Limitless teaches girls to use photography, mindfulness, and self-care to promote mental wellness.
All programs culminate with a collective photo exhibition where hundreds of girls come together to curate one, powerful show.
Mentors assist the girls in creating photo essays, artist statements, and personal narratives that reflect the various concepts of photography they’ve learned in their programs.
These exhibitions are significant to the girls’ experience as they provide an outlet for their families and friends to discover more about who they are. Beyond that, the girls learn to network with community leaders, artists, and activists who support the Las Fotos Project mission.
Fifteen-year-old Natalia Angeles has been been a part of the organization since the fall of 2014, participating both in the Esta Soy Yo and Exchange programs. When Natalia began with Las Fotos Project, she was interested in learning basic photography skills. Today, this fiery, young womxn has become one of the organization’s noted event photographers and a committed crew member. Her dedication to the organization has influenced her to make connections with girls outside of her school and has empowered her to advocate for the arts.
Natalia describes this organization as “a good source to connect with other girls that share the same passion,” and most importantly, “a place for girls to be who they want.”
Executive Director of Las Fotos Project, Eric Ibarra, see’s the value in the empowering interactions girls have within the organization. He says “witnessing the level of comfort, and how girls interact when they’re creating [art] with just other girls, is a really beautiful thing to see happen.”
When asked about why Las Fotos Project serves girls ONLY, Ibarra expressed that “there’s so much work can that can be done for girls,” especially for those living in underserved communities of color who too often have limited access to enriching art programs. Eric also shared that this organization creates “safe spaces for womxn who want to discuss heavier social justice issues such as patriarchy and misogyny,” which can negatively affect girls’ well being if they remain uninformed.
“I wish I had a program like Las Fotos when I was growing up,” says 25-year-old Esta Soy Yo Mentor, Yvonne Rodríguez. Yvonne’s involvement with the organization began in the Spring of 2016 and she says she’s “completely in love with it.” She admits having gone through drastic “phases” as a young girl, and believes an organization like Las Fotos Project would have made a difference during her teenage girl experience.
“I used to find ways to express who I thought I was, but I would constantly find that I was comparing myself to other girls. I didn’t know the value I had,” Yvonne says, and girls today experience similar situations.
Social media platforms, for instance, are becoming dominant sources of information for girls in their homes, and the internet is a place where endless comparisons of people, views, and ideas occur on a daily basis. People regularly rank each other with “likes” and self-portraits have become main components of online identities, which are accessible to anyone. With the immeasurable amount of information found online, it’s inevitable for people, including girls, to compare each other, and it can – unfortunately – be very damaging to self-esteems and well being.
Fortunately for girls, Las Fotos Project provides a space for dialogue where there’s always an opportunity for growth in consciousness. These conversations inspire girls to create art, and they inspire Mentors to become better role models.
“I see myself becoming a mentor,” said Natalia, when asked whether she would continue with Las Fotos Project after turning 18. “My mentors have encouraged me to become who I want, and I think I have the potential to encourage other girls as well.”
“The most fulfilling thing to hear from the girls is that they love to hang out with their mentors because they think we’re cool – and I’m not trying to put myself on a pedestal,” Yvonne said playfully, “but that is what matters – the connection that they are able to make with us. It’s a huge responsibility to be a role model, but it’s a trip that girls want to be like me.”
To learn more information about Las Fotos Project visit www.lasfotosproject.org, take a trip to their new headquarters in Lincoln Heights at 2658 Pasadena Ave. 90031, or follow them @LasFotosProject, on Instagram for all their latest events and photographs.