A local nonprofit is teaching young women to build confidence and self-esteem with a secret weapon: photography.
"With cameras, I think young people are so used to using social media to photograph everything that's going on in their lives, that they're very comfortable making images," said Eric Ibarra, who founded Las Fotos Project in 2010.
The community-based photography organization gives young women ages 11-18 an outlet for self-expression, while giving them hands-on experience. They provide a mentorship program, sessions focusing on mindfulness, a pen-pal-type exchange that connects students with other teens across the country and a program called Digital Promotoras, where teens use a photojournalism approach to highlight a health issue in their communities.
This time around, the assignment was to focus on mental wellness.
"In the larger picture of society, mental health is seen as something negative to talk about," said Ibarra. "So we’re trying to make it so that mental health and wellness is part of their everyday lives."
The girls chose to photograph subjects coping with a range of issues – postpartum depression, PTSD, body dysmorphia – as well as people who work in the mental health field.
"I think it's important for girls, especially at this age, to realize that some of the issues they're experiencing – it's not just them," he said. "And so I think it's important for them to realize that and be comfortable speaking about it."
The girls spent 12 weeks working on the multimedia projects – using professional cameras and editing equipment to assemble two-minute slideshows with subject audio from interviews running underneath. The group will screen the projects at an event Saturday, Jan. 14 at 1 p.m. at Little Casa theater in Boyle Heights.
Here are a few of the young photographers talking about their work:
Maya Rosado, 14, photographed Chicana activist Felicia Montes
"The whole theme is about mental wellness, but then there's different topics and I chose racial issues. And I thought of her because activists, they stand for what they see. She stands for different things, but the things that got my attention the most were how she stands for women of color and Native American, indigenous rights, which are things I'm interested in as well.
There's some effects of racial issues ... when you don't feel comfortable, or you don't have self-esteem, but she was comfortable about herself.
The way that she stays emotionally well is by surrounding herself with people who are passionate about the same type of things and that's how I connected it back to emotional wellness."
Damaris Martinez, 17, photographed Martha Escudero, a postnatal and prenatal case manager at an East L.A. wellness center
"The project that I made is about her experiences coping with postpartum depression after giving birth to her first child.
I kind of read about [postpartum depression] before but I didn't know that it was actually a result of child birth. At least now I know that there are services that help women in these cases, but based on what Martha has told me sometimes ... the women that she meets deal with stress from lack of financial aid."
Citlalli Lopez, 15, photographed Elmer "Manuel" Ayala, a photographer who has body dysmorphia, a condition that causes him to obsess over perceived flaws in his appearance
"I wanted to switch it up since everyone thinks about women when someone says body positivity. And I feel like everyone -- even men -- also go through that.
I wanted to do something about body positivity since I feel like I relate to it so much. It’s something that I still have issues with, but I’m working on it.
I remember him telling me that the reason I like photography is because I get to capture what I want and through that I get to see the beauty in it.
I really recommend [Las Fotos Project] to every girl. Since it’s really hard to look for who you are, it helps you own that. And during that process of seeking who you are and what are your interests, it shows you other opportunities and connections."