Sometimes it takes serendipity for magic to happen. That’s true for capturing the perfect moment with a camera, and it was also true for Las Fotos Project. They’re a nonprofit organization that teaches and mentors youth from communities of color in the art, craft, and business of photography.
“All the boys in the workshop dropped out,” recounts Lucia Torres, executive director of Las Fotos Project, on the early days of their project. “That’s actually the reason why we ended up being an all-teen girl and gender-expansive youth organization.”
The mission of Las Fotos has largely been shaped around that sudden departure of boys. The project allowed teen girls and gender-expansive youth a creative space to express themselves in a way in which they weren’t allowed elsewhere.
“The things that the young women were expressing [in] that workshop are things that they wouldn’t have expressed if there were other people who didn’t have their experiences in the room, a-k-a boys,” says Torres.
Las Fotos Project students, who receive individual mentorship from 35-40 volunteer photographers and artists, have found a much needed emotional outlet in photography.
“They can be vulnerable … and not be judged for what they’re thinking or how they’re feeling,” says Torres. ”We don’t want them to continue bottling up what they’ve been bottling up for long periods of time now.”
Today, Las Fotos is not just a creative safe space, but an organization with more ambitious aims. They offer equipment, guidance, and moral support to students who are hoping to use their newly learned skills for a potential career in photography, or just to make a few bucks as a freelancer.
“Our students after learning these technical skills [came] back saying, ‘My neighbor wants to hire me for a quinceañera. What do I charge them?’” recalls Torres.
Las Fotos Project students are also encouraged not just to turn the lens on themselves, but also on the people and issues in their communities that may be less visible in mainstream media.
“Recently, we’ve had a lot of students highlighting small businesses who have either really struggled under COVID, or are being very resilient and very creative, with the work that they’re doing in the community,” explains Torres.
The opportunity to document and express, to learn and refine, has also extended outside of the communities of color Las Fotos Project students live in. Angel City FC, LA’s professional women’s soccer team, allows students to be on the field to document live games.
“I would be frightened to death,” jokes Torres. “[But] they’re gaining these wonderful experiences and opportunities to really grow in the field, and become professional photographers.”