Esta Soy Yo: Portraits of Home

About the exhibition

What creates our most authentic self? Is it in the places we call home? Or in the reflections we see?

Defining it is a life-long process often filled with surprises, joy, and healing. In the fall of 2019, Las Fotos Project’s Esta Soy Yo program youth explored these questions through two projects: “Finding Self”, which took a look at personal identity using photography and mixed media, and “Portraits of Home”, a documentation of people and places that ground us.  

The resulting culminating exhibition is a 360 degree look at the self, bringing conversations to the surface about hopes for the future, mental wellness and what inspires us to be true to ourselves and the people around us.

Portraits of Home
Featured Photographers:

Michelle Montecinos, 17
Tonali Murillo, 14
Arianna Ordaz, 17
Andrea Ponce, 18
Isabella Reyes, 12
Jahana Tellez, 17
Madison Torres, 13
Kirsten Velasquez, 15

Teaching Artist:
Arlene Mejorado

Teaching Artist Assistant:
Natalia Angeles

Paula Busnovetsky
Jon Dragonette
Marinthia Gutierrez
Louis Heilbronn
Leah Hubbard
Stephanie Kropp
Thomas Pineda

Andrea Ponce

My favorite part about Las Fotos Project is when we take field trips, and we get a list we have to check off. This list helps me stay organized so I won’t miss a shot of anything. I love the fact that every mentor is so engaging with the students, even we get shy, and they never fail to let us know about any announcements regarding the class. I am so grateful that Paula is my mentor because I can’t help but see myself in her. She has given me great advice on how and what to take pictures of, as well as how to relive a moment with just a single picture. She inspires me because I love her energy, her vibe, and the biggest coincidence is that she grew up in New York, where I want to live when I grow up!

I am Catholic, so I enjoy going to Sunday mass with my mom or my friends. My favorite preacher is Joel Osteen. It’s my dream to see him in person at the Lakewood Church in Houston, Texas. I have four nieces and six nephews, I love spending time with them. My first goal is to graduate from high school. After I accomplish my goal, my dream is to attend Santa Monica College and major in Journalism and Communications. I also want to take Graphic Design and Business classes. While I am in college, I would love to take internships, work on my writing skills, and possibly work for a magazine company to gain some experience. My all-time dream is to work for Cosmopolitan in New York and have my mom live with me there for about a year or so.

I am proud of myself because, ever since I was 14, I have been going through medical issues that literally take a toll on my body mentally and physically. Even though there are times when I get tired and think of giving up, my faith continues to grow. I know God is holding my hand in everything I am doing currently and in what I plan on doing in the future.

Some days out of the week, I babysit for my cousin. I really like to do DIYs because it helps me work on my patience. Before I wanted to be a magazine editor, I wanted to be a pastry chef. At home and whenever I can, I bake cupcakes, brownies, chocolate-covered strawberries, or any type of dessert. I am learning about myself every day, and I am glad Las Fotos Project is part of my destiny.

About my project

What home means to me are these exact images. I bring you into my first thoughts of home. Every photo comes together as me, a young girl who lives in the San Fernando Valley and appreciates all the places that have been a big part of my past. It wasn’t until Las Fotos Project that I realized these people and places made me who I am right now. I know deep inside my heart that these memories were part of my destiny. I chose to make this my project because it has a lot to do with my community. These places are all very well-known, but I wanted to make them stand out in their own ways so everyone here can see the true beauty of your own community, your own home, and appreciate where you live. I want you to look at my images and think of a time when you felt warmth and happiness, and keep that close to you. 

Arianna Ordaz

My name is Arianna Ordaz. I am 17 years old and in the 12th grade. I was born in West Covina, CA, and currently live in La Puente. I am continually being impacted by the people in my life. The people I surround myself with allow me to truly be who I am and help me explore different parts of myself.

Being in Las Fotos Project has created a different perspective of photography for me. It opened me up to a community of photographers that are passionate about their craft and are looking to help other photographers. Las Fotos Project places you in a supportive community that wants to help and guide you. Being open to this different side of photography has widened my knowledge of different cultures and backgrounds. Photography has been my outlet for my thoughts and a way to express myself. When others see my photography, I want them to understand who I am through the people around me.

About my Project

Friends and family have always represented home to me because they make me feel comfortable in my own skin and give me the freedom to express myself. The people in the photographs all hold a special place in my heart and have given me a piece of who I am today. Out of all the friends I photographed, Genesis and Natalie are the two friends I have known the longest and who have had the strongest influence on who I am today. Kaitlyn is a friend that I have known for a shorter amount of time, but has taught me what it means to feel at home within myself and truly be happy with who I am. Amara has helped me through the hardest times in my life, especially my struggles with multiple family issues and self-acceptance. She has encouraged me to manifest my time into hobbies that are good for my mental health. Isabela is new to my life, yet it feels as though I have known her the longest. She has opened me up to a different side of myself and brought out the child-like wonder in me. Giovanna has strengthened the idea that home is found within oneself and has been my place of safety. My mom has defined home for me as a place you are willing to fight for and protect. My friends and family are my guides in life and continue to build who I am and how I see the world.

Kennia has helped me open up to others and be my best self. She brings out a side in me that no one else has ever been able to. Now that she has helped me realize that I can be loved and appreciated, it has helped me to be more open around others. Although I am still a little shy with people I have just met, I am now more open and confident.

Isabella Reyes

My name is Isabella Reyes. I’m 12 years old and currently in the 7th grade at Blair Middle School in Pasadena. I was born in West Hollywood and I live in Pasadena, CA. I want to be a photographer when I grow up and shoot street photography. What I like best about myself is that I like to talk about weird stuff and make it educational. In a way it’s “cringy,” but it can be helpful to the community. If I could live anywhere it would be here in Los Angeles or Pasadena because I am familiar with the area. The best part of Las Fotos Project is that there are no guys here to discriminate your work. Usually it is men who win awards or have reality shows about how they started. My photography is something special to me that no one can take away. Showing a picture is someone showing their art and creativity.

About my project

My project is about what home is to me, like my brother. We are a team like Batman and Robin. Sometimes, if you are lucky enough, we are more like Superman and Batman. What inspires me about him is that whenever I go out somewhere dangerous or overstep some boundaries, he always keeps me in check. He is also more shy than I am, so I sometimes push him to try something new. No matter what happens though, we will always be siblings.

Jahana Tellez

My name is Jahana Tellez Dominguez. I am a young Latina who is a student with multiple roles outside of Las Fotos Project. I enjoy the small things and experiencing life with my five senses. Some places I love to visit are bookstores, libraries, coffee shops, thrift stores, and sightseeing other places that I have yet to explore.

Being in Las Fotos Project has made me more aware of myself. I love photography, smelling the pages of fictional books, as well as reading and seeing between the lines, spending time with my family, and writing in my journal. A long-term goal that I want to accomplish is to become a photographer. I am proud that I keep up the consistency in my work and find breakthroughs in myself. It’s a feeling that I get as I better myself as well when I volunteer with Las Fotos Project.

About my Project

This project that I created for Portraits of Home is based on my personal perspective on what home looks like to me. In every photograph that I took, I captured a moment where materials, objects, and moments with my family represent a memory from the past. It is not the place that defines home, it is the people and materials that give a home a significance. I chose these photographs because they are real moments that go on in my life and what I see throughout my days. I am sometimes anxious to get to my home.

Kennia has helped me open up to others and be my best self. She brings out a side in me that no one else has ever been able to. Now that she has helped me realize that I can be loved and appreciated, it has helped me to be more open around others. Although I am still a little shy with people I have just met, I am now more open and confident.

Kirsten Velasquez

My name is Kirsten Velasquez. I’m 15 years old and am a Sophmore at  Eagle Rock High School. I was born and raised in Highland Park. I am a mellow, rebellious, and adventurous person. When I think about what I want to be when I grow up, I see myself becoming a pro-surfer because I love riding the tides. I feel proud to have thick skin because I can face the realities of life, which makes me a stronger and better person. Pro Skater Rodney Mullen inspires me because of his creativity and invention of new tricks, and this pushes me to be creative when I skate too. A turning point in my life was when I was about 10. I knew that time was flying by fast and that my youth would be gone because I was getting older and entering middle school. My carefree days were numbered. Now I embrace the small things and live every day to the fullest. If I could live anywhere in the world, it would be Norway because I could wake up to nature and have the ability to enjoy it.

What I like best about photography is that all I have to do is push a button to capture a moment forever. My favorite part of Las Fotos Project is the people they surround us with. They make us want to learn more about photography, encourage us to take more photos, and that it is okay to make mistakes. The best part about working with other girls is that they can make stuff more relatable. The best thing about my mentor was that we had the same interests: skateboarding. Having others see and appreciate my photography made me feel eager to take more photos. Some new things I explored with Las Fotos Project was taking action shots of people skateboarding. Next semester, I will be rejoining Las Fotos Project.

About my project

For this project, I chose to focus on skateboarding. It represents home for me because I see my skating crew as a family, and family is home. I would describe my photography as a documentary because I capture the everyday things I do with my community (specifically my skateboarding community). Things that influence my photography are things that I can relate to. For example, when I can relate to something, it creates a certain feeling. When I am taking photos, I try to capture that feeling that will bring back those memories. The best thing about being a photographer and artist is that you have your own way of conveying what you feel, see, and how you want to show it to the world. I make art because it can be therapeutic. You’re in your own world when you are creating art that inspires you. The most challenging part about being a photographer and artist is that you need to put your vision into each piece and figure out how to show others what you want them to see. The way I begin a piece of art is by looking for something that stands out, or is unusual. To me, it is unique and inspires me to create something original and different. When someone says my photography turned out really well, it’s a nice compliment. It means they took the time to figure out what I wanted them to see.

Madison Torres

My name is Madison Torres, and I am a 13-year-old girl living in East Los Angeles. I am in the 8th grade at San Gabriel Mission Elementary. When I grow up, I want to be a cosmetic dermatologist who creates makeup for all skin types. I like that I AM CREATIVE and I LIKE MY EYEBROWS! My great grandmother inspires me to be strong. She is a hard worker, no matter the circumstance.

What I like about my photography is that I can look back at the memories behind the images. My favorite part of Las Fotos Project is that it allows us to have freedom of speech. Working in an all-girls class helps me feel that my work will not be overshadowed by a boy. My mentor was super supportive and patient with me, and she helped me expand my ideas. Seeing others look at my work made me very nervous at first, but I learned that I can be confident in the work I make. Being in Las Fotos allows me to experience new things, like learning how to use the manual setting on my camera and control the lighting of my images. I make art because it makes me feel like I am being heard. For me, the most challenging part of being a photographer is coming up with unique ideas. The way I come up with ideas is by relaxing and thinking of the things that make me happy and calm.

About my Project

As a third-generation Mexican-American, I feel it is important to document my day-to-day life using photography. When others see my work, I want them to feel like they are there in that moment, and that they are a part of my family. I believe that my work creates feelings of home and love because the images have so many colors and memories.

A turning point in my life was when I moved from Altadena to East LA because I felt living in Altadena had drained my culture out of me. I felt this way because the school I attended in Altadena had a culture of white privilege. When moving back to East LA, I was able to reconnect with my culture. If I were able to live anywhere in the world, I would want to live RIGHT WHERE I AM.

Michelle Montecinos

My name is Michelle Montecinos. I was born and raised in Los Angeles, California. I am currently a 17-year-old senior attending Dr. Olga Mohan High School and will be graduating in summer 2020. After high school, I plan to major in Kinesiology with the hopes of becoming a physical therapist. I juggle being part of a youth group, taking guitar lessons, and practicing my photography skills, all while staying on track with my school work. I have taken several classes at Las Fotos Project. With each semester, I have learned new techniques that have helped me grow as a photographer. I’ve had wonderful experiences meeting and learning with other girls here, and I am always encouraged to come back. I love photography and believe by making an effort to learn day-by-day, I will continue to improve my skills.

About my project

Even though I live in the United States, Mexico has always felt like home. With this project, I wanted to photograph objects and capture moments that reminded me of being in Mexico. My definition of home is a place where I feel loved and comfortable being in, and that is what I feel when I am there. Having the opportunity to fly to Mexico regularly has given me the chance to adopt some cultural traditions.

Tonalli Murillo

My name is Tonalxochitl (Tonali) Murillo. My name means “flower of the sun.” I am 14 years old, and I’ve been a part of Las Fotos Project for two years. I live with my family and my pets – my dog, my turtle, and my horse – who I love very much. I go to school at Gabriella Charter School in Echo Park. Sadly, it’s my last year there, and I have made a lot of memories there with my friends.

Something I’m proud of is taking care of my family, mostly my mother, because she has chronic pain in her arms that hurts her, and I’m always there to help her no matter what. Some other things that make me proud are helping my mom cook and making my father laugh.

My favorite part of Las Fotos Project is that everyone feels like sisters in every class I’m in. We share a lot about our lives through our photos, which might be emotional, but we still support each other. The best thing about being a photographer is influencing others and being influenced by them as well. If I make mistakes, I can get advice from other people, or if other people are struggling, I can help them. When I’m creating an artwork, such as a photograph, I first think of a subject or theme. Then, I start planning when to shoot and finally, I start shooting and make sure to explore different perspectives.

About my Project

Through this project, I am showcasing my culture and family.

Culture and family represent home to me because it reminds me of my extended community and its history. I feel it’s important to showcase this because a lot of negative things are happening to the people of my community.

My maternal grandma inspired the theme for my project. She immigrated from Mexico and was the first in her family to come to the U.S. We trace our heritage back to our Aztec ancestors. My grandma was a strong woman and an important part of me and my siblings’ lives. She would always wake up early and make us traditional food. Whenever we were down or upset, she would always comfort us and make us laugh. My grandma also played a significant role in my life when I was younger. I used to be very shy, but I would always feel so comfortable speaking with her in Spanish.

Although she is no longer with us, I see a lot of my grandma in my mom’s daily life. My mom acts just like her, loveable, and always there for you. It makes me so proud to see my mom as the next generation who is keeping our culture alive. I feel like I’ve been through so much despite being so young. I’m so grateful for my family. If I’m going through something, I can always rely on them to help me through any situation.

This project has helped me realize that even if a person’s culture or community is struggling to stay alive, there is always hope. I encourage everyone to celebrate their culture as much as possible.

This exhibition was made possible thanks to the support of the California Arts Council, Little Light International, Horace Goldsmith Foundation, Vernon CommUNITY Fund, Department of Cultural Affairs, Edward A and Ai O Shay Family Foundation, NALAC, Crail-Johnson Foundation, and the Parson’s Foundation.