Capturing the world through photography, video and multimedia

Estefani, 11th grade, YouThink: Usually when I take a photo I don't really find the meaning right away; it’s hard for me to take the photo without already having the meaning. So when I saw him in that position looking at himself through the reflection of the glass, I just immediately thought, 'Wow! There are stairs, he's looking at himself as if he's saying goodbye to the old self and trying to go upward in life.' People may say, 'Oh, it's just taking a picture,' but it's more. I feel like it’s harder than drawing, because in drawing you have that control. But in photography you have to go look for that story that you want to say.

Cynthia, ninth grade, YouThink. The name of my photograph is "What Might Have Been." This photograph shows a part of my family history. We either sell crops or we grow them. My father has a garden full of crops, he has watermelons and strawberries. My mother has her own little flower garden. The thing that amazes me about gardening is you have this ability to create something. You're creating life. I’m amazed how I have the lowest self esteem and sometimes I want to disappear off this earth. But I look and see this little flower and think if this flower can survive rain and heat, why can't I survive everything life throws at me? I was born in Mexico and when I was 2 years old my mother decided she didn't want me to have a life like she did. She wanted something better for me. "What Might Have Been" means that if I had stayed in Mexico would I have had the option to make my own life?

Student portrait of Joshua, ninth grade, Dorsey High School: This photo shows how I'm chill, peaceful and I joke around a lot. I want to be an entrepreneur and start my own business.

Emilio, 12th grade, YouThink: This photo is important to me because people know Compton, my hometown, as a violent place with gangbanging and drug dealers. I won't lie to you, It's kind of a section to it, but every city has its defaults. I want to show in this picture a nice and peaceful place in Compton. The majority of the city is like that. I used the train to show how productive it is. I got on my roof and I actually waited for the train to pass. I used the sunset in the background to make it seem peaceful, nice and quiet. I used the shadowy trees to add a nice harmony. Compton means everything to me. I was raised here. My whole childhood is here. It's home to me.

Jose, 11th grade, YouThink: I hate when people discriminate against teenagers, but in reality I'm still a teenager. So I embraced that fact. My photo captures two teenagers taking a breath because sometimes we want to grow up because they tell us to grow up and then we don't have a direction. So we try to live for that future, but that future doesn't come, that one that we are fighting for, and then we forget to live in the moment. So in the end we aren't even living at all. My picture shows two kids living for once and just taking a breath.

Alessandro, 10th grade, YouThink: There are many different kinds of stories. If you pay attention to the paint that the guy is covering over, anything old can be new again. It can have a fresh start. Another story is how the worker is by himself in a vast space. I have a couple of friends that sometimes don’t believe there is anyone who can help with situations they are going through, but that's not always true. Not everything you have to do by yourself. But, there are some things that are really personal and you know you have to do for yourself and by yourself. Sometimes in life you just have to support yourself and “simply paint.”

Student portrait of Xavier, ninth grade, Dorsey High School: I center myself in the middle without saying anything. I can control myself by my actions, not words. People see me as just an African American kid here, just to be here. But I see myself as trying to do something positive for my community, somebody else’s community, and my school.

Student portrait of Andreass, ninth grade, Dorsey High School: I think I would describe myself as a different and outgoing person because I’m not trying to be like everyone else and I’ve been through a lot. So it comes together as I’m overcoming everything that happened in the past and I just want to help other people who are going through the same stuff that I went through when I was younger.

Jocelyn, 11th grade, YouThink: The photo that I chose I did a specific caption: "The path that leads me back to my origins." I used the clothesline as a guide to lead the person viewing my photo to the big tree in the background, which for me is the main idea for the picture. In the bottom there are bicycles, fans and a wagon. I incorporated those because I want to show where I come from. My dad's a mechanic so he stores a lot of stuff he uses in the backyard, he just puts it there. I just wanted to use that to show where I come from.

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Sophia Nahli Allison is a visual journalist and media arts educator. She has been teaching photography workshops to teenagers in Los Angeles.

by Sophia Nahli Allison

“I’m amazed how I have the lowest self esteem and sometimes I want to disappear off this earth. But I look and see this little flower and think if this flower can survive rain and heat, why can’t I survive everything life throws at me?” said Cynthia, a ninth-grader participating in a youThink photography workshop.

I am inspired by the youth I work with and privileged to hear their stories. Through photography I want students to discover that their voices carry a weight of importance and add a unique narrative to the world of storytelling. I enter each classroom wanting students to learn something new about themselves. Through reflective prompts and discussions, they begin to tap into an awareness of self and society that isn’t always addressed at home or school.


Recently, I taught two photography workshops for youth. At youThink, an innovative arts education program of the Zimmer Children’s Museum, students created photographs inspired by their own poems about personal and community histories. Additionally, a group of freshmen students at Dorsey High School focused on reclaiming their self-image through portraiture.  I asked the same question of each group: “How do you view yourself and your community compared to the views of others?” Their personal perspectives were vastly different and overwhelmingly positive.

“I see myself as a young and black successful man. Some people see me as just another black boy in the ghetto,” one of the Dorsey students anonymously wrote on the first day of class.

I watched as students grew and began to explore more ideas both conceptually and technically. If a certain lesson wasn’t resonating, it was time to revamp and check in with the students one on one. This was when their visions came alive. As a teaching artist, my goal is to provide students with the digital skills and media literacy needed to guide them in executing the ideas and talent they already possess. There is a resiliency and insight we can all learn when giving youth the platform to be heard.

1 Comment

  1. January 30, 2015, 4:10 am

    The photo reminds me about my childhood friends.

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