These Self-Portraits Capture What It Means To Be A Teenage Girl In LA Right Now
It's rare for any medium to capture the specific feeling of being a teenage girl — it's some ephemeral mixture of self-confidence and self-consciousness, of being both extremely vulnerable and generally angry, confused and passionate, all at once. It's hard to describe, but you know it when you see it.
That's what's so special about these self-portraits, all of which were taken in workshops run by Las Fotos Project, a photography and mentoring organization designed to teach female-identifying students how to express themselves with a camera. There's something quintessentially teen about them that makes you nostalgic for that unmolded sense of self you lose when you age.
Each student in the program gets one mentor of her choice, and each mentor — professional photographers in the L.A. area — works with two students. Participants get their own DSLRs for the semester, plus access to Las Fotos' space, which has light kits, a variety of studio equipment, and computers with photo editing software.
The nonprofit's first workshop, nine years ago, happened to be all-girls — none of the male students showed up. The topic was photography as therapy, but the founder, Eric Ibarra, noticed that when it came time for the students to show their work to a coed audience, the girls immediately shut down. They didn't want to show their portraits to the boys — and suddently all of the pressure of real life seeped into the openness and the intimacy of their self-portraiture. So Ibarra decided to keep it that way — all-female.
And it makes sense.
"Photography as a business is very saturated with older white males," says Alyssa Garcia, Las Fotos' Education and Programs Manager. "Very rarely do you see younger women of color being recognized or respected on that level."
Garcia says that she supervises the workshops but they're run by the girls.
"I feel like I'm back being a teenager when I sit in on those classes," she says. "It's very nostalgic but also very raw. You can just feel the energy of the girls feeling safe, but also being OK with exploring the concept of self and identity."
Las Fotos is based in Lincoln Heights, so the majority of the participants are from East L.A., but their workshops and mentoring opportunities are free and open to teens across the city.
The organization recently put together a retrospective at Photoville L.A. of the images that they felt best represented work from the program's nine years of existence. The collection captures what it means to be a teenage girl. Now. In L.A.
"Some of the students are experiencing mental health issues or have family struggles going on — and you know the normal stuff of being a teenager — their bodies are changing, they're dealing with relationships," says Garcia. "A lot of our students have like seven classes a day and are dealing with that, and sports and commuting to school, and the fact that they're trying to learn about themselves and learn photography always impresses me. It's really a beautiful thing to experience and see."
Following are just a few of the photos from the show.
"Falling For You," Andrea Flores, at age 14
"When I am older I picture myself living in London as a music journalist because writing, music, and photography are my passions," says Andrea Flores. "I like that photography gives me the ability to create memories. I want to let people know that I may be shy at first, but when you get to know me, I am artistic."
Flores lives in Echo Park and is a freshman at Ramon C. Cortines Visual and Performing Arts School (VAPA) downtown. She says she's inspired by "Lana Del Rey, Matt Dillon, The 1975, and The Neighbourhood."
"Windows to Another Dimension," Kimberly Aldana, at age 16
"Originally from Ecuador, I'm just an ordinary girl living in Highland Park... my top goal is attending UC San Diego to fulfill my dream of becoming a veterinarian. I would be the first in my family to attend a UC university and the first of my siblings to graduate high school."
"Curiosity and I," Monica Herrera, at age 16
Herrera lives in Echo Park and is a junior at Newmark High School in the Rampart Village/Westlake neighborhood. She has seven older siblings and calls herself a "future book writer." She's also into poetry and science. She says Las Fotos helped her gain confidence. "Las Fotos Project opened doors for me, taught me to be open-minded, and pushed me to reach past everything," she writes. "It made me gain so much knowledge about myself."
"Discovering Me," Celeste Umana, at age 11
"My name is Celeste Umana. I am eleven years old. I was born in Santa Barbara but, now I live in South L.A.... My family is supportive and loyal and they make me who I am. I am so grateful to have them and my friends in my life, especially, my little sister. The day she was born changed my life. I now have to set an example for her and take responsibility for different things...
"I feel like this photo shows a little of me with my room behind me. I put on red lip-gloss to add a pop of bright color. I used the mirror as a way of showing myself in a different way."
"Higher Powers," Romina Estrada, at age 16
Estrada lives in Whittier and is a junior at Las Flores Academy. When she grows up she says she wants to be either a fashion photographer or a foster mom.
This photo, she says, is about "how I feel about religion and higher powers" and "shows my curiosity about what people believe in."
"Finding Beauty in Negative Spaces," Paola Bautista, at age 14
Bautista says she believes "art doesn't always have to look beautiful" but it should "make you feel something." She describes herself as an "outspoken female" who is trying to be comfortable in her own skin. "I am both a sad and happy person, and I am still trying to figure out why," she writes.
"This is a photograph of me in a not-so-clean place. I took this picture in an alley I always walk by to get to school. I chose this particular place because I feel like it isn't noticed or cared for. Although, it was full of trash, I think this is a very artful place."
"AUGH," Jessye Bautista, at age 15
"This is a position I like to rest in whenever I'm really stressed and tired... I don't think there's ever been a day where I wasn't remotely tired or stressed.
"I'm a 10th grader at Santa Monica High School... Although I moved around a lot as a kid, the thought of everything changing in such a short amount of time always scared me, and art was the only way I could cope."
"Rose Colored Glasses," Italletzi Sánchez González, at age 18
"My name is Italletzi (but everyone calls me Ita.) I'm 18 years old and [now] I live in Tijuana.
González says this is the bedroom she shares with her sister and that the decorations on the wall represent their different taste in music (Justin Bieber and Cafe Tacuba).
"Flor de Anahuac," Metztli Garcia, at age 16
"I grew up in East Los Angeles, a place typically known for its bad influences and violence. Growing up in a low-income family, I have seen the struggles my parents faced with money and keeping a stable home. Even with everything my parents have been through, they have still made time to teach me about the importance of believing in myself. And although they are not able to provide me with the resources that others may have, I know I can be whatever I want to be...
"To me, flowers represent Sacrifice and Strength. Power and Passion. Hope and Happiness. 'The Rose that Grew from the Concrete,' said by Tupac Shakur, has taught me about having ambitious goals and being able to reach them despite the challenges or obstacles I might have along the way."
"Strong & Resilient," Jennifer Alvarez, at age 17
"My name is Jennifer Alvarez and I was born and raised in East Los Angeles, California where I currently live with my parents...
When you think of a self-portrait, you usually think about a photo of someone's face. When I created this image, I wanted to experiment with different angles and express myself by using my hands. I feel like this image shows my delicate, sensitive side. Although at times I feel overwhelmed and like giving up, I am a strong, resilient person."
"Nepantla: In Between Identities," Odalis Zamora, at age 17
"I identify as a strong, hardworking Latina, but there is so much more to know about me."
''Myself," Melissa Zamudio, at age 18
"I like parties and going out with friends, but I prefer to stay home to listen to Elvis Presley and Frank Sinatra...
"This is me, in the place where I can be myself."
Untitled, Alejandra Gonzales, at age 15
"My name is Alejandra Gonzalez and I was born in Las Cruces, New Mexico but currently live in East Los Angeles, California. I am 15 years old, attending Mendez High School...
"When I was creating this series of photographs, I was thinking about how I could express my feelings. Instead of posing, I wanted to mimic the chaos that was roaming through my mind using body language. I've never been good with words, but photography enables me to visually transcend those thoughts."
"Dualidad (Duality)," Regina Zamarripa, at age 15
"See this girl
the one with the blue dress
and sweet shy smile
See the faces on the walls
all close cherished friends
and the best of memories...
"Reflection and Polaroids," Michelle Perez, at age 17
"I like that this photo shows the things that I love most and that I hold close to me through the pictures on my wall...
"I was born and raised in Los Angeles, California and I currently live in South Central... My mom is Mexican, my dad is Guatemalan and I couldn't be any more proud of my culture. I'm constantly inspired by my community and the people who live around me... I see hard-working people everyday."
"The Girl Who Cries GOLD," Elysse Caballero, at age 17
"This photo is important to me because I have never really taken the time to take photos of myself. I usually just take photos of other people and this project made me feel good on the inside when I finished. When I was taking this photo, I was feeling stressed and overwhelmed because I was doing a lot of school work and I wasn't taking the time to take the best photo of myself... In my agenda, I reserve 15 minutes out of the day for myself to just breathe in and out, which honestly helps me remember why I am doing what I do everyday...
"I was born and raised in Los Angeles and I have lived here my entire life. Honestly if I could live anywhere else I wouldn't...
"In the future I want to be either a pediatrician or a photojournalist."
"Mi Hogar en Los Ángeles (Home in Los Angeles)," Alma Dono-Miranda, at age 18
"My name is Alma Dono-Miranda, I was born on March 14, 1998 in Zacatecoluca, La Paz, El Salvador. I came to the United States when I was 15, and now I live near Downtown, Los Angeles...
"In this photograph, you can see my mother Blanca, on the left side and my 14-years-old sister Tyara behind me... I spend most of my time with my family, we sleep on the same bed. In our room, we tell each other stories about our day. When I took this photo, I felt a little bit uncomfortable because I am not used to showing my personal space to someone else."
"Serenity," Melissa Barales-Lopez, at age 16
"The photo being displayed encapsulates a state of emotion I often have trouble expressing: serenity...
"As the oldest of six, I often have to think of the 'common good.' I often set aside my personal interests for those of my siblings. Whether it be foregoing a red ice drink because my six-year-old sister is sick, or skipping track and field practice to babysit my younger brother, as a Latina, "family first" is a fundamental principle...
"As an individual, I aspire for too much. I'm too vehement and too zealous, so I've been told. I come on too strong, as I let out loud shouts during football games and mighty fist-bumps at the end of sprinting races. But, as an individual, I have no doubt my outlandish hopes will manifest themselves into something great."
"Flor Morada," Guadalupe Felix, at age 15
"My name is Guadalupe Felix, but my friends call me Lupe. I'm a sophomore, Latina attending Mendez High School. I aspire to go to college and make something out of myself so I can put a smile on my parents face and make them proud."