Photography program for East L.A. youth burglarized; $65,000 worth of equipment stolen

Las Fotos Project, a nonprofit in East Los Angeles that offers free photography classes to underprivileged female-identifying and nonbinary students, lost $65,000 worth of camera and other tech equipment when its space was recently burglarized.

Now the organization is asking for support to help quickly reopen its doors to the community.

The crime was discovered when a maintenance staff member arrived to clean up the space on Cesar Chavez Avenue early Tuesday before Las Fotos Project opened around 9 a.m., said Executive Director Lucia Torres.

Right away the staff member noticed everything "was turned upside down and he immediately called 911," Torres said.

Los Angeles Police Department officials took a burglary report that morning. The incident is still under investigation.

When Torres and the rest of her team arrived, she said they noticed that the back doors were pried open, cabinets were broken and their office spaces were ransacked.

She believes the perpetrator or perpetrators were able to access the rear entrance of the facility by cutting the backyard fence around 1 a.m. They believe the break-in occurred around that time because a missing credit card was charged shortly after 1 a.m.

Torres estimates they've lost $65,000 worth of cameras, lenses, studio equipment and laptops.

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"That's our initial estimation because we were told by the Los Angeles Police Department [on Tuesday] and Wednesday to leave things be so that LAPD's fingerprint technicians can come in," Torres said. "So we haven't been able to do a full assessment yet."

Las Fotos Project uses photography to mentor teenage girls and gender-expansive youth from communities of color through classes, community projects and opportunities to borrow equipment to perform freelance jobs.

By training the students in photography, Torres said, the youth are empowered to express their creativity and build professional and personal confidence. The photos are displayed in the nonprofit's exhibit space. The students also directly engage with the community when people come in to have their professional, family or pet portraits taken by them.

"Over the years we've been able to really establish a safe place for our young people to come where they're able to feel vulnerable, share how they're feeling, make connections, and not just with peers but trusted adults," Torres said.

Since the nonprofit's establishment in 2010, Las Fotos Project has been a home for thousands of youth. Now that space has been violated, she said.

"Everyone is deeply hurt, deeply hurt that a community space would be targeted in this way and they're deeply hurt that the resources have been taken from our young people," Torres said.

Aside from losing equipment, the nonprofit has had to temporarily relocate classes or stop them altogether this week. Young participants in the organization also don't have the equipment needed to conduct their jobs, missing out on income, and Las Fotos Project had to cancel events they had been contracted for by other community businesses, Torres said.

The positive side of this incident, she said, is the community support that has come out, with past students and community partners sharing on the group's Instagram page how Las Fotos has been an integral part of their lives.

Las Fotos Project is asking for donations and has released an equipment list for those who wish to purchase and donate an item. Their goal is $75,000 to replace stolen equipment and repair damages to the nonprofit space. As of Thursday, they had received roughly $28,000.

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This story originally appeared in Los Angeles Times.