L.A. girls behind the lens

The Las Fotos Project empowers youth of color to tell their stories.

I’ve long been inspired by the Los Angeles, California-based Las Fotos Project. The organization mentors teenage girls from local communities of color using participatory photography.  Not only do students benefit from having a creative outlet, but they’re also given the space and freedom to express themselves while exploring their identities and gaining new skills.

When recently faced with a challenging year at home due to the pandemic, students used their cameras to connect with their families and personal histories, to appreciate their neighborhoods and physical community, and to contemplate the things that they value and that make them who they are. We’re honored to share a glimpse into their personal photographic journeys. - Bear Guerra, HCN photo editor


The Esta Soy Yo: Perspectives class encouraged Las Fotos Project students to use photography as a tool to explore their identities, share their unique perspectives and reflect on their environments. As they experimented with techniques or played with colors to enhance their digital photos, the students learned non-traditional approaches to using this medium as therapy and a creative outlet.

The resulting photographs that make up this exhibition tell the stories of girls who have complex lives and relationships, and who are learning to define value, love, happiness and freedom. From DIY studios to arrangements in nature, there are small windows into their family dynamics, cultural traditions and personal feelings. The people surrounding the students also take center stage as they become muses or mirrors that reflect more about their essence. Lineage and roots can be translated into a low-rider or a Bolivian flute – while a tree, skatepark or bracelet conveys feelings of safety and belonging. By photographing objects, memorabilia or the places they are from, the students discover what truly matters to them and continue to find their voice. They show what is available to them, what is worth celebrating and what they hold dear.

Whether it be for personal healing, body positivity, inspiration or documentation, the camera becomes a platform for the students’ evolving self-awareness. Naturally, their photos and poetic descriptions become an extension of who they are. –Las Fotos Project

“I have loved flowers since I was tall enough to pick one from the tree and put it to my nose, examining its petals and stem. I would watch them waving in the wind, without a care in the world. Photographing them makes me feel at ease and gives me a feeling of peace. With this project, I want you to see places or things that are meaningful to me. I used many elements of the sun at different times of the day because I like to be outside and be aware of my surroundings.” - Anaïs Rallion, 15

“DREAMING – Avalon & 103, November 2020. In this photo, you see a tree. When I look at this photo, I feel like I’m in a dream. I see the reflection of the sunlight on the van. I see a tree bringing up the sidewalk because its roots are growing. I see a tipped-over shopping cart. I see painting on the wall, but this is normal life for me. This is what I see every day in my community.” - Esmeralda Estrada, 16

“My project is titled ‘El Interesado Busca,’ a quote often said by my grandfather. Translated to 'he who longs, looks.' I want my project to depict the uniqueness of my family, the people who have shaped me to become the person I am today. I hope that these photos convey the importance of family and the idea that there is so much more to people than what meets the eye; we have to take the time to find it.” - Ayana Jackson, 17

“For my final project, I documented my family’s weekend activities with the low rider community. This is very meaningful to me because my family doesn’t spend a lot of time together, but one thing that brings us together is car shows, and that is something we do every weekend. I enjoy documenting the cars and the community at the car shows, and it’s a way to help me connect with my family and community.” - Angelina Flores, 15

“My final project, titled ‘Agua de Mis Raíces,’ explores the elements in my life that have made up who I am: my friends, my family, my neighborhood, and the place I have called home for most of my life. These elements have contributed to the exploration of myself, helping me learn to love both my mind and body. My connection to self and space has flourished into something I never had before. This project represents how the places and people around me have nourished my growth, being the agua de mis raíces.” - Valeria Hernandez, 16

“My photo project ‘Then and Now’ focuses on my family. This project lets them look back and reflect on old family photos. I am remaking these photos now and seeing how they feel and if they feel the same way. I want others to see how much people can change throughout the years and how when you look back, you can see a difference from yourself then and now. I want others to feel the emotion that is felt and shown in both the original photo and the remake.” - Veronica Nuñez, 16

“My project is about my perspective on this quarantine. I wanted to picture the different emotions that I’m sure we have all felt during these times. I was inspired by Carrie Mae Weems for the setting and style of my photos at the dining table, capturing moments and feelings I’ve had there during the quarantine with my family.” - Ariana Perez, 14

“RECUERDOS – This year, my family and I set up an ofrenda on our kitchen table for Día de Los Muertos. The picture on the ofrenda is a close-up shot of my grandma and me at my baptism party when I was a year old. In the background, there is a Bolivian flute, a candle to remember my grandma who passed a year and a half ago, and a rosary that was given to me at my quinceañera. I love that I can represent the beauty of my Bolivian culture and highlight each object which has its special meaning.” - Mikaela Foronda Zanipatin, 16

“My project, titled 'I Love You,' is about intimacy and exploring my long-distance relationship with my boyfriend, Brian. I wanted to show the emotions and views of being in a relationship with someone who you can’t physically be around all the time. I wanted to genuinely show the different ways absence and presence feel like in a relationship where we’re apart more than we’re together.” - Ashley Sanchez, 15

“My photos explain the meanings of emotions through colors. I chose to take these photos because it represents how emotions can come and take over one’s body, face, mind and surroundings. It also represents how one person can feel more than one emotion at a time. With each image I take, I see a different story — a story that I had brought to life through photography. To me, this means a lot more than a story, and feeling something more than anything I can explain.” - MaryJane Joya, 13

Esta Soy Yo: Perspectives Teaching Artist: June Caneda

Amara Higuera
Jessica Chanen-Smith
Maddie Keyes-Levine
Maya Wali-Richardson
Stephanie Kropp
Stephanie Lemus
Will Navarro

Las Fotos Project is a community-based nonprofit organization that inspires teenage girls through photography, mentorship and self-expression. Offering year-round programming, the organization provides girls with access to professional cameras, quality instruction and workshops that encourage them to explore their identity, build leadership and advocacy skills, and strengthen their social and emotional well-being.

Las Fotos Project’s mission is to elevate the voices of teenage girls from communities of color through photography and mentoring, empowering them to channel their creativity for the benefit of themselves, their community and future careers.

Roberto (Bear) Guerra is photo editor at High Country News. Email him at bearguerra@hcn.org or submit a letter to the editor.