Fine Art Photography Daily

THE FOTO AWARDS PRESENTED BY LAS FOTOS PROJECT: CJ Calica in Conversation with Aline Smithson


©CJ Calica

Las Fotos Project was launched to provide opportunities for those who are both systemically and socially silenced to make themselves heard

This week in honor of Latinx Heritage Month, we are celebrating a wonderful organization in Los Angeles, the Las Fotos Project, and The Foto Awards taking place on October 22, 2022. Today we celebrate CJ Calica, winner of the Student Self-Expression Award.

Las Fotos Project’s mission is to elevate the voices of teenage girls through photography and mentoring, empowering them to channel their creativity for the benefit of themselves, their community and future careers. The organization was founded in 2010 to introduce teenage girls to the transformational power of photography and advance positive change in the surrounding community.


Las Fotos Project was launched to provide opportunities for those who are both systemically and socially silenced to make themselves heard

This week in honor of Latinx Heritage Month, we are celebrating a wonderful organization in Los Angeles, the Las Fotos Project, and The Foto Awards taking place on October 22, 2022. Today we celebrate The Self-Expression Award Winner, CJ Calica.

Las Fotos Project’s mission is to elevate the voices of teenage girls through photography and mentoring, empowering them to channel their creativity for the benefit of themselves, their community and future careers. The organization was founded in 2010 to introduce teenage girls to the transformational power of photography and advance positive change in the surrounding community.

CJ Calica (she/her) is a 17-year-old photographer from Glendale, California. She has participated in the Las Fotos Project for more than five semesters, specializing in mixed-media works of self-expression. Her work uses a variety of media, including overlay drawings and collages, focusing on portraying a story in her shots using colors. She wants to continue working in mixed media photography and advance her directing and leadership abilities with LFP.

Follow CJ Calica on Instagram: @audienceink


©CJ Calica

Aline Smithson: Congratulations on your award, C.J.! I’m so excited to get to know you and your practice, but first, can you tell us about your growing up and what brought you to photography?

C.J. Calica: My childhood was different to say the least. I spent a lot of time with my family. From my brother and mom being my go to hangout plans when I was in elementary to middle school. Extended family was also a big aspect of my life, we held a party every week because the Calica Clan was so big that there would always be something to celebrate. With all these parties came a lot of family photos. I had simply grown accustomed to taking pictures over the years. My dad, in particular, was a huge Facebook fan. From the restaurant he visited that day to the party he attended over the weekend, he would document everything. Being in front of the camera made me more at ease and piqued some interest in photography. However, I think my real introduction to photography came in seventh grade.

I chose Yearbook as my elective since it was the only one that sounded intriguing and I assumed it would mainly involve layouts and interviews. But, boy was I wrong. My role in the yearbook became one of the photographers. We were all given access to the cameras for events, but I was able to utilize the camera provided in the class, and I would seize any chance to take pictures. Similar to my father, I enjoyed “capturing the moment.” From the fierce flag football match after school to the friend groups’ lunchtime laughs on the field. I felt like I had a purpose at school while I was holding a camera. The camera brought me a lot of joy and I became passionate about photography because of that feeling.

AS: Going through your website, I can’t believe you are 17 and working in such an elevated way. What makes you create work that is beyond the traditional, using mixed media?

CC: My experiences serve as the inspiration for all of my work. In order to convey my experience as a teenager who is almost an adult but not quite, I utilize a lot of color and mixed media painting. It is dispersed throughout. You can’t really describe my style at this time since, similar to how I feel right now, I’m not sure what I want yet. I think of my work as a psychological doorway. One of my biggest sources of motivation are dreams. Because I’m a heavy sleeper who can sleep through any alarm no matter how loud, my dreams frequently appear magical or surreal. However, dreams don’t always make sense and can take you in unexpected directions.

My art reflects the emotions of my experiences and dreams. I tend to take a non-traditional approach to my work because, if I did, it wouldn’t feel like my work was being displayed. My ultimate aim is to produce work that is instantly recognizable. When I’m gray and old, I want someone to gaze up at my work and think of me without looking at the title, caption, or my name. My ultimate goal is to develop a distinctive aesthetic, which is one of the main reasons I stray from the conventional path.


©CJ Calica

AS: Have you had any photographic training?

CC: In Mrs. Berger’s yearbook class, I received a lot of my basic training. I began by not even understanding what exposure was. She gave us a lot of advice regarding lighting and the rule of thirds. It always felt natural to me to hold a camera in my hand while I snapped pictures at events like plays and sporting events. At home, my cousin and I would spend the entire day attempting to capture images similar to Bethany Mota’s Instagram feed. I applied what I had learned in class to the pictures of her that I would capture. I discovered a lot, even with the low quality of my iPhone 5 at the time.

Even so, I think a lot of what I learned came from LFP. When I joined LFP during the peak of COVID, I didn’t know anything about manual settings, and it was a whole new world to explore. They trained us through lessons and practice. Each week we would have to send 10 of our favorite photos with the given prompt or topic. Eventually, I was able to learn more about photography from simple things I would’ve never known about,like the difference between large and small jpeg and how to format a card.


©CJ Calica

AS: How did you get to know the Las Fotos Project?

CC: Actually, it was through a friend. Xochi (she/they). Xochi Cruz. We connected greatly about our interests and aspirations for the future while we were both in girl scouts. We lost touch for a while, but since we still had each other’s contact information, we reconnected. Xochi had the ability to instantly make you feel as though no time had passed since your last conversation. They are undoubtedly one of my main sources of inspiration for my work. When I was struggling at school and with my family at the time, Xochi was there and showed me this incredible program. I never would have discovered my passion for photography without her.

At one of the events, I vividly recall how it felt to see them in person. I was approached by Xochi to take part in a photoshoot for her CEO Fall 2021 portfolio when I was going through my blue hair period. They really opened my eyes to their unique style of shooting and managed to catch me in ways I had never seen myself before. I’m still incredibly appreciative of Xochi’s friendship with me.


©CJ Calica

AS: How has the organization inspired your art making?

CC: LFP has inspired my art making in more ways than one. Although, I think one of the biggest ways is through community. With all my heart I can say that Las Fotos Project is the most welcoming community of all time. I’ve always been shy to share my work and reluctant to show to others what I can do. But LFP helps me share that.

AS: What are your goals as an artist/photographer?

CC: As a photographer and artist, my goals are to collaborate with more brands on editorial and product photography projects and to learn more about the many mediums I can use in my future work. In Melinda’s CEO(B) class last semester, I learned a lot about physical mediums, including cyanotype and incorporating physical elements/scanning my work. It gave me fresh insight on how I may improve my work. One medium I hope to add to my work soon is 3D Art.

My greatest ambition is to collaborate in some way with Golf Wang. One day, I aspire to work as a photo assistant, and when I do, I’ll hopefully be capable of working with GOLF le FLEUR. One of my biggest aspirations is to work with Golf Wang. Every single thing they produce is fantastic. The marketing strategies for the products are all essential to the look and serve purpose. How thorough they are with each and every post is something I adore. The level of detail is really mind-boggling. My aims are to put in enough effort to amass sufficient experience so that I can investigate that field of photography and set design.


©CJ Calica

AS: What does photography give you and how does it add to your visual language?

CC: I can express myself through photography without using words. I’ve always had a difficult time saying what I actually want to say. Since I’m awkward and dread public speaking, having the ability to use pictures and captions has made it easier for me to organize my ideas and communicate what I want to say. I have the opportunity to participate in the creative community in my own unique way through photography. I can capture the moment through photography. I can also make memories that can be relieved, so we won’t forget them.

Prior to photography, I saw how competitive and cutthroat the art industry was. I lost motivation to pursue it since I didn’t think I was good enough and my work didn’t feel like me. I now have a medium to explore with thanks to photography that still feels like I’m a part of the industry. I discovered that taking pictures isn’t just about capturing the subject, it can also be about telling a narrative. By becoming a part of me, this contributes to my visual language. My photographs are the nonverbal dialogues I make with other people, just as the things I wear. It reveals my life’s strengths and faults and truly helps with people getting to know me better.

AS: Who or what inspires you?

CC: I find inspiration from people like my cousin Jill. We were always close when we were kids, but since she moved to California, she has served as both one of my main inspirations and a role model for all of my artwork. She is genuinely willing for anything, and she can pull off any pose I suggest. I only had time to shoot for weekly submissions solely at the crack of dawn during our hangouts last semester because I was so busy with school. I would put on some makeup and begin shooting, and it always came easy for us to work together.

From our interests to our clothing to hobbies, Jill and I are total opposites. But we have very similar ways of thinking. It’s so simple for me to communicate my ideas to her because she just gets them. She is so pretty that I can catch her in any manner. After that, we spend a lot of time working together on editing and coming up with fresh ideas. Jill always comes up with the out of the box ideas and it always blows my mind that she just comes up with it.


©CJ Calica

AS: What’s next for you?

CC: For the time being, all I have planned is college. Unfortunately, I’m not majoring in photography. I plan to keep it with me throughout my life. Even after I complete the program and graduate, I intend to continue working with LFP in some capacity. I am incredibly grateful for everything LFP has done for me, and I would love to return the favor by mentoring the next generation.

Making a photobook is one of my upcoming projects. I would like to compile all of the work I produced when I was a Las Fotos Project student. It would serve as a photographic journal of my progress through the program and a monument to the last years of my childhood. Wendy’s photobook served as a huge source of inspiration for me, and I loved holding and physically experiencing my own photographs. I’ll be working alone on this project this year, but after it’s done, I’ll share it.

Aline Smithson is a visual artist, editor, and educator based in Los Angeles, California. Best known for her conceptual portraiture and a practice that uses humor and pathos to explore the performative potential of photography. Growing up in the shadow of Hollywood, her work is influenced by the elevated unreal. She received a BA in Art from the University of California at Santa Barbara and was accepted into the College of Creative Studies, studying under artists such as William Wegman, Allen Rupersburg, and Charles Garabedian. After a career as a New York Fashion Editor working alongside some the greats of fashion photography, Smithson returned to Los Angeles and her own artistic practice.

She has exhibited widely including over 40 solo shows at institutions such as the Griffin Museum of Photography, the Fort Collins Museum of Contemporary Art, the Shanghai, Lishui, and Pingyao Festivals in China, The Rayko Photo Center in San Francisco, the Center of Fine Art Photography in Colorado, the Tagomago Gallery in Barcelona and Paris, and the Arnika Dawkins Gallery in Atlanta. In addition, her work is held in a number of public collections and her photographs have been featured in numerous publications including The New York Times, The New Yorker, PDN (cover), the PDN Photo Annual, Communication Arts Photo Annual, Harper’s, Eyemazing, Soura, Visura, Shots, Pozytyw, and Silvershotz magazines.

Smithson is the Founder and Editor- in-Chief of Lenscratch, a daily journal on photography. She has been an educator at the Los Angeles Center of Photography since 2001 and her teaching spans the globe. In 2012, Smithson received the Rising Star Award through the Griffin Museum of Photography for her contributions to the photographic community and also she received the prestigious Excellence in Teaching Award from CENTER. In 2014 and 2019, Smithson’s work was selected for the Critical Mass Top 50.
In 2015, the Magenta Foundation published her first significant monograph, Self & Others: Portrait as Autobiography. In 2016, the Smithsonian Air and Space Museum commissioned Smithson to create a series of portraits for the upcoming Faces of Our Planet Exhibition. In the Fall of 2018 and again in 2019, her work was selected as a finalist in the Taylor Wessing Portrait Prize and exhibited at the National Portrait Gallery in London. In 2019, Kris Graves Projects commissioned her to create the book LOST II: Los Angeles that is now sold out. Peanut Press Books will be publishing her monograph, Fugue State, in Fall 2021. Her books are in the collections of the Getty Museum, the Los Angeles Contemporary Art Museum, the National Portrait Gallery, London, the Metropolitan Museum, the Guggenheim, the Museum of Modern Art, among others. In 2022, she was honored to be a Hasselblad Heroine. With the exception of her cell phone, she only shoots film.

Follow Aline Smithson on Instagram: @alinesmithson

Posts on Lenscratch may not be reproduced without the permission of the Lenscratch staff and the photographer.

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