Communication is a form of expressing ideas, thoughts, observations and feelings through any means, whether verbally or visually. At Las Fotos Project (LFP), we teach positive communication by asking our students to delve into their creativity using a lens to capture their individual stories. Our goal is to empower young Latina girls to step outside of their comfort zone and speak their minds in a safe and supportive environment. The beauty of photography is that it is a universal language, which can communicate much more than a thousand words no matter what language one speaks, where one comes from or how introverted one may be.
Nayra Bentes Flores, a shy yet talented, 16-year old student, whose preferred language is Spanish, is one of our students at the MacArthur Park location. Nayra’s interest in photography began when she was in 9th grade and has since become more aware of the meaning her photographs convey. LFP has not only taught Nayra how to take “good pictures” of flowers, animals and people, but rather how to capture their essence.
LFP is a safe haven for Nayra to open-up and become more comfortable expressing her worldviews. In fact, her mentor, Beatriz Mendoza, a graduate from the University of La Verne with a BA in Communications and who currently works in television production, shares that at the beginning, Nayra “wouldn’t say a word or participate in class at all. Now she participates. She asks questions. We chat on the phone about her project and how her week is going, about her love for sports and how she loves to play on the soccer team.”
Currently, the mentors are teaching the students about the significance of storytelling through photography as they “develop their photo project ideas for the gallery.” In doing so, Beatriz and her students are “discussing how they can use their photography skills to positively impact their communities and maybe even change a few social concerns around their neighborhood.”
Through the weekly sessions, Nayra has learned to be more cognizant of the moments she is capturing through her lens. During classes, “we are talking about the pictures we are taking. We have to pick 3 pictures and write about them.” This process provides Nayra and her peers an opportunity to learn from each other.
As Beatriz describes it, “sharing a photo can be artistic and it can carry a different meaning for everyone. It can be an ordinary photo to me, for example, but to some of the girls a photo has a sentimental or emotional value. Sharing something like that with anyone takes a lot of courage, especially as a teenager.”
Beatriz, who Nayra describes as “funny and helpful,” hopes that Nayra “continues expressing herself artistically and nurtures her talents and interests. I hope she learns to view the world differently and finds beauty in everything around her – including herself.” As a start, Nayra plans on capturing and sharing her own story: her passion for “el fútbol,” which she has been playing for 5 years and which she proudly says “¡Se siente padre!”