Growing up in Montebello, California — a city just minutes from downtown LA — I didn’t have anyone looking to give my confidence a boost. My high school lacked any sort of arts program, my parents worked endlessly to support five kids, and I certainly wasn’t getting pep talks from my friends, who were dealing with struggles just like mine. Most girls in my predominantly Latinx high school did look like me, a Mexican-American with indigenous roots; my issues weren’t about wanting to fit in, but a desire to stand out. How I wish I could have had an organization like Las Fotos Project to turn to for support, and as an outlet to explore my creativity. Thankfully, girls in LA have that now — as they have for almost 10 years.

Los Angeles-based photographer Eric V. Ibarra launched Las Fotos Project in 2010 after seeing that teen girls in East LA would benefit from creative mentorship which would, in turn, help build their confidence and self-esteem. A year later the program became a project of Community Partners, a 501(c)3 organization that invests in public interest initiatives, and has since helped over 1,200 Latina youth hone their photography skills and show their work in exhibitions.

Last spring they presented a show titled “Mayan Womxn In LA,” now the subject of a new short film by the socially-aware documentary film company Living On One. The exhibition featured the work of young Guatemalan-American women that explored their indigenous Mayan heritage, and included portraits of the women in their communities.

“For me, it’s so important to be able to see models of different sizes and shapes,” says one of the featured photographers in the footage. “I am five feet. I am brown, like this is not what a typical model looks like. I’m just grateful that different women are able to represent our identity in the way we want to be represented.”

The group’s latest show, titled “Faces & Phases,” explores adolescence through an introspective look at how the photographers’ private and public lives shape their identities. The show is the culmination of a three-month-long project that involved mentorship, hands-on workshops, guest speakers, and creative photo assignments, and reveals each girl’s unique story of growth, empowerment, openness, and courage.

One of the photographers in this exhibition is 16-year-old Maya Rosado, who says she uses her “free time” to focus on her artwork.

“Las Fotos Project provides the resources necessary for me and other girls to express ourselves such as photography equipment, mentors who guide us, and guest speakers who share their skill,” Rosado wrote in an Instagram post. “I use photography to communicate my experiences. Whether I am feeling happy, creative or sad, photography allows me to document my feelings in the moment. It is a way for me to look back and remind myself that no one is perfect. Whether good or bad, my experiences make me who I am today and affect who I will become in the future.”

“Faces & Phases” will be on view through January 19 at 2658 Pasadena Avenue, Los Angeles. Click here for more information or call (323) 352-8131.

(Photo via LivingonOne)