RICHMOND -- Richmond High School senior Francisco Rojas became interested in photography at 15, but through his involvement in the American Teenager Project, he fell in love with the storytelling medium.

"This is powerful," Rojas, now 17, said. "As I got trained, I felt this was something that everybody should start doing, even if it's a small city like Richmond."

Rojas, along with 18 young photographers in Richmond, was trained by veteran New York-based photojournalist Robin Bowman to go into the community, interview teenagers and photograph them.

More than 100 portraits of the teens and the stories they shared with the budding photojournalists will be on display at the Richmond Art Center from Jan. 11 to March 7.

The exhibition features a two-part event Feb. 1: a meet-and-greet reception with the project participants and "Unlock the Talk: The American Teenager Project in Richmond," a discussion of the themes presented in the exhibition, co-hosted by the RYSE Youth Center.

The reception starts at noon and the discussion begins at 2 p.m. at the art center, located at 2540 Barrett Ave.

Julia Hollinger, executive producer for the American Teenager Project, said the idea was borne after her friend, Bowman, spent five years traveling across the country documenting the stories of more than 400 teenagers.


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"I collaborated with (Bowman) on helping turn that collection into an uncensored book that was published and included all of the teenagers and most of the interviews," Hollinger said. "After that experience, Robin felt very strongly that she wanted to carry on the tradition."

Hollinger was a teacher in Richmond at the time and was able to get teens to tell their peers' stories through workshops at the RYSE Youth Center.

The teens asked 22 questions of their subjects ranging from their opinions on violence to LGBT issues and challenges facing undocumented youths. Each portrait will include a transcribed interview, and 30 portraits will feature an audio interview.

Rojas, who has 16 portraits in the exhibit, said the project fed his passion.

"I kind of did go crazy over it," he said. "I just liked the whole process. I'm definitely wanting to do photography as a living."

This article was produced by RichmondConfidential.org, a nonprofit news service based in the UC Berkeley Graduate School of Journalism.

IF YOU GO
What: Unlock the Talk: The American Teenager Project in Richmond
Where: Richmond Art Center, 2540 Barrett Ave., from Jan. 11 to March 7. Opening reception: Noon to 2 p.m. Feb. 1
More info: Visit www.therac.org or call 510-620-6772