THE FOTO AWARDS PRESENTED BY LAS FOTOS PROJECT: Wendy Cubillo in Conversation with Amy Tierney
Las Fotos Project was launched to provide opportunities for those who are both systemically and socially silenced to make themselves heard
This week we are celebrating a wonderful organization in Los Angeles, the Las Fotos Project, and The Foto Awards event taking place October 22, 2022. Today we celebrate Student Catalyst Awardee Wendy Cubillo. The Catalyst Award (sponsored by Sony Pictures Entertainment) is given to those who are purposefully disrupting mainstream photography.
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 thentransformational power of photography and advance positive change in the surrounding community.
Wendy Cubillo (b. East Los Angeles, California in 2004) tells stories related to identity, activism, and pride. Shifting through the different lenses of our people, Wendy uses photojournalism to highlight the day-to-day lives of the Los Angeles community. As a 18-year-old, Wendy has created a Magazine brand named Eonagapi, and released her first magazine titled “Eonagapi: Sonder Issue 01” showcasing pieces by local artists, interviews with rock bands, and various essays by East Los Angeles youth. Her purpose is to spotlight the accomplishments of the Angelino youth, centering around passions, talents, aspirations, and social justice, hoping tomprovide a microphone in which youth voices can be heard.
Follow Wendy on Instagram: @eonagapi
Amy Tierney: How did you get to know the Las Fotos Project?
Wendy Cubillo: That is a very interesting story. It really felt as if the world was guiding me to it! I’ve been a part of East Yard Communities for Environmental Justice since 2019. There, two of the Youth In Action organizers told me about the program, as I started to get into photography. Months later, I was walking down Boyle Heights and I saw these beautiful photos on bus shelters. They captured the true essence of community, pride, and self-expression. I really saw myself reflected in the photographers and the way they captured what it is really like to live in East LA and Boyle Heights — With all its beauty, emotion, and reality. That’s when I knew I had to apply. And yes, when I saw the acceptance email, I could not stop smiling!
AT: When did you first start photographing regularly and what inspired you to do so?
WC: People’s stories. About a year before joining Las Fotos Project, I began to photograph my community. I would walk around my neighborhood, Whittier Blvd., and just…shoot. It was all on auto at the time, but I loved the way my camera served like a microphone. Every photo was a statement of pride, and a way to say “This is us.” The more I took photos, the more I captured what was already around me, and what I like to call, the “hidden gems.” I was born and raised in East LA, and have grown up with small businesses, food vendors, and, well, people my age around me. But never did it ever occur to me to stop, and talk to them. Really talk to them. Photography made me see that everyone has a story to tell. And amplifying these voices, talents, and aspirations is only a conversation starter away.
AT: What kind of photographer are you, and why do you continue to do those types of Photography?
WC: I like to do a lot of concert/event photography, mixed with fashion, and photojournalism. I find that all these areas concentrate on emotion and self expression, which is my favorite thing to document. Concert photography focuses on a lot of facial and physical expression. I can capture singers screaming into the microphone, people shouting, the audience moshing, laughing, being silly. Everyone is having a good time and letting go. There is no feeling that compares to this, and I will say…it has become my favorite type of photography.
Similarly, fashion photography focuses on spotlighting the models, their features, and their personal style. I love capturing their proud pose and unique personality in each photo. I’ve found that it is so much more than styling an outfit. It is telling a story with the colors, choice of clothing, makeup, etc. I love seeing an idea and concept transform into reality
Tying the two together is photojournalism, which is the reason I love these types of photography and why I continue to do them. By doing these, I get to know the people I photograph, listen to the stories they have to say, and make memories along the way. Even with moments like dancing around at the studio, or those first 5 minutes of feeling nervous when meeting someone new. It’s how we go from being strangers to not that is truly my favorite part, and what the magazine focuses on.
AT: Where have you received your training so far?
WC: I was introduced to the world of cameras by my older brother. However, it wasn’t until I joined Las Fotos Project that I learned the “behind the scenes” or the way everything works. At las Fotos Project I was able to learn more about the technical aspect of photography, such as my manual settings, using different types of lighting like strobes and LEDs, how to set up equipment, and using Lightroom to edit. Learning at LFP, also means getting hands on, so I was able to be a part of opportunities such as shooting at The Ford Theater, and fashion photoshoots for Spring and Summer with Trixxi, all using different cameras and lenses. I’ve truly learned a lot being part of Las Fotos Project, and I’m very grateful for all the mentors, teaching artists, and staff at LFP for encouraging us to go above and beyond and always being there to help if we need it.
AT: Please tell us more about why you chose to highlight Angelino youth in the magazine you started, and about why you chose the magazine’s name and the meaning or message you want to share with your audience by using that name?
WC: Eonagapi is based on two Greek words merged together — aionia agapi, which translates to “eternal love.” Eonagapi started as a project to redefine the definition of beauty, focusing on stepping away from gender norms and highlighting our true, authentic selves. Beauty is often associated with physical features, when in fact, it is a word with so much more depth. That is what Eonagapi hopes to share. We are our experiences, our aspirations, our passions, our pride, our community, as well as our bad times and our insecurities. And we’re not alone in either of those aspects.
I chose to highlight angelino youth because the more I took photos, the more I saw how much power youth hold. Especially in underrepresented communities like East LA and Boyle Heights. However, (and I say this from personal experience as well) it isn’t easy to take a leap of faith to express your thoughts, ideas, or emotions. And what better way to motivate youth to do so, than by the words and work of other youth creatives themselves? Other musicians, other artists, other photographers, other activists, who are also going through a similar process. I hope that Eonagapi one day serves as a platform to connect artists to one another, and motivate other youth to continue to pursue their dreams in the arts.
AT: What are some of your favorite photographs you’ve taken of musicians and why?
WC: These photographs are some of my favorites because they all reflect intense emotion. It feels as if you’re right in front of them just by looking at the photos. The fushia pink lighting and highlights in the first image make the artist pop. Everything is dark around her, but her presence pulls you in as she sings. Similarly, the portrait of the drummer of Apocalypsis and Aredsun, Jacob Cuevas, holds passion in his gaze. He is looking directly into the lens, as if looking at the viewer. Lastly, the black and white image has stood out to me ever since the moment I took it. It is such a candid moment that reflects the energy of shows precisely. All subjects in this photo have the same facial expression. A scream. Fists in the air. They’re having a great time, and enjoying every moment.
AT: Where would you like to see your photographs published or displayed?
WC: I’d love to see my photographs in a gallery, newspaper, or magazine. It has always been an aspiration of mine for my work to be published in the LA Times, Rolling Stone, and People. However, my biggest inspirations come from independent magazines. I deeply admire their focus on other independent creatives, just like with this interview now. It is platforms like Lenscratch and others that highlight our work and expose us to new artists by doing so. So, thank you for that and the opportunity to be here!
Amy Tierney is a photographer of climate, entertainment and women’s focused stories and portraits, a visual media educator and ambassador photographer for SanDisk.
Her work has been published in Elle, Vanity Fair, Variety, the Los Angeles Times, NY Times Magazine, Entertainment Weekly, The Hollywood Reporter, Los Angeles Magazine, Rolling Stone and broadcast on all major television outlets.
Near and dear to her heart is a project she co-crafted with nationally recognized non-profit Step Up Women’s Network called “Photojournalism for Girls … The I Dream To Project”. The program ran for five years, and taught over 400 underserved teen girls in LA, New York and Chicago the tools of photojournalism as the skills to meet with the very women they dreamed to be.
Amy believes the underlying power to transform lives, markets and communities continues to be the stories we share, and looks forward to the opportunity to share yours!
Follow Amy on Instagram: @amytierney
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