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​Can't Stop, Won't Stop: Las Fotos Project creating youth entrepreneurial opportunities during pandemic times

Posted February 13, 2021 by Las Fotos Project

All of us at Las Fotos Project cannot believe that the My LA2050 grants challenge happened six months ago because we remain in awe of the support our youth-powered Foto Studio received from all of you! Las Fotos Project is proud to work alongside the Goldhirsh Foundation's LA2050 initiative to CREATE a Los Angeles that fosters art and entrepreneurship.

According to the Otis Report on the Creative Economy, Los Angeles is already home to the largest population of working artists and 13% of LA County residents are employed in the creative economy. While the availability of workforce development programs for traditional trades have become widely available in communities of color, most do not include the creative arts as part of their curriculum. So in 2017, Las Fotos Project launched our Creative Entrepreneurship Opportunities (CEO) program to prepare students for this ever-growing economy. CEO is an innovative model for building career pathways in the creative economy for teen girls through photography instruction, mentorship, business experience, and creative freedom. Through weekly photography training and paid on-the-job experiences, the CEO program equips our students with the tools, skills, and knowledge to think critically, explore creative careers, and become self-sufficient. We believe that preparing our youth of color for creative careers is critical not only for our region's growth, but more importantly for our youth to generate their own jobs and wealth.

Program Progress and Challenges

Unfortunately, COVID-19 has paused the grand opening of our physical location for The Foto Studio; however, the inability to work in a professional studio has not stopped us from creating and moving forward. Since Las Fotos Project was awarded the grant in July, we launched our remote product photography services, and we are extremely proud of our CEO students' resourcefulness and innovative spirit displayed through the work they created from the safety of their homes or through physically distant, outdoor photo shoots. Our CEOs created images for Girlfriend Collective's website and Forever 21's Digital Lookbook. They also documented micro-business owners supported by past My LA2050 awardee Inclusive Action for the City and created social media content for Lander Skateboards, a brand-new skateboard company in LA! You can view all of our recent product photography projects here.

Xochitl Cruz for Lander Skateboard / Romina Estrada for Girlfriend Collective

In addition to our CEO students completing product photography jobs and building their income, we made progress toward our goal of supporting women owned small businesses through mutual aid. In Fall 2020, we trained a cohort of 19 CEO students, as part of their training, we partnered with woman-owned businesses: Vive Cosmetics, Pam + Mo, and Mixtina. These businesses provided products to each student in our CEO Clients class, the owners participated in class sessions giving students an opportunity to network, learning how to work with clients and how to meet clients' needs while still executing their own creative visions. In exchange, our students provided each of these businesses with unique product photography images to use on their website and social media in order to boost their online sales. You can view all our CEO's portfolios here!

Xitlali Martinez for Pam + Mo / Adria Marin for Vive Cosmetics

Our CEO student Maria Romero has been a tremendous leader as we launched our product photography services. During these last few months, she not only graduated high school and started college, she has trained in the CEO program, worked with our first few product photography clients, and even started her own film developing business!

Maria's Perspective:

Las Fotos Project has taught me to be outspoken and proud of being a woman photographer of color. The Creative Entrepreneurship Opportunities program has given me the liberty of learning how to make my passion into a business that can eventually become a job that will sustain me. The CEO program has also provided paid job opportunities, which have helped further my personal discovery of different types of photography. Through these experiences, I learned what I love as well as what I do not really enjoy in the field of photography. Personally, I am excited to see the Foto Studio running because it will give girls in Las Fotos Project the opportunity to be more hands-on while learning about photography.

Recently, I started my own business, EVE's FILM, where I develop film for photographers. When I first started shooting with film it was expensive because many photo shops charge more than $15 per roll. Las Fotos Project has taught me that photography should be available for everyone so I learned how to develop my own film and later I started developing film for others with a price range that would not be too expensive for fellow photographers. Currently, I am saving up the income I make from my CEO jobs and EVE's FILM in order to buy a few new camera lenses as well as purchasing additional developing chemicals. You can view my most recent CEO portfolio here.

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In 2019, Maria received The Foto Award in the Self- Expression category. Self-portraiture became a healing process that she hopes others are able to relate to.

Maria Romero for LA Compost Gratitude Party

In 2019, Maria focused on event photography. She was the official photographer for LA Compost.

Maria Romero for Lander Skateboard

In 2020, Maria helped pilot the launch of our remote product photography services. She worked closely with Lander Skateboard to create product and lifestyle images.

Next Steps and Call to Action

Despite Covid-19, we remain excited about the next steps for The Foto Studio. Once it is safe to do so, we look forward to training our students in the studio and accepting clients for photoshoots and e-commerce photography. We still plan to open our doors to local artists and creatives so they can have an affordable and safe studio to create their work. All of this together will help complete our vision of being an incubator and accelerator for creatives in LA. However in the meantime, we invite you to support Las Fotos Project by hiring our CEO students as your product photographers or by purchasing a print in The Foto Shop. We also invite you to spread the word about our CEO program to women-owned businesses who might be interested in our mutual aid efforts. If you are interested in hiring our students or partnering together on a project, please reach out to us at [email protected].