It's been said that a picture is worth 1,000 words. "Faces of LA," which debuts tonight at MTV Networks' new offices in Santa Monica, attempts to tell the story of the social and cultural diversity of Los Angeles with 75 photographs.
The goal of the yearlong, traveling exhibit -- part of the Anti-Defamation League's Dream Dialogue program -- is to enlighten viewers. But it also was a learning experience for 33 Los Angeles high school students -- many of them first-time photographers -- who shot the photos.
The images range from portraits of families and the student photographers themselves to thought-provoking images of protesters and their acts of self-expression. Among the latter are a religious activist at the AIDS Walk protesting against homosexuals with a huge banner and megaphone; a buxom blond showing her support for President Bush at a Hollywood rally before the Academy Awards; a disheveled, sunburned man at Venice Beach with a handwritten "unhoused" sign hanging from his neck; and a bald African American man, holding an El Pollo Loco cup, sporting sunglasses and an "I am the American Dream" T-shirt.
"The hope of the exhibit is not just to have pretty pictures on the wall," says Tessa Hick, project director for ADL's A World of Difference Institute.
"We really want to make it an interactive experience for people who see the photos and have them grapple with the questions. What does diversity look like? How is our society misrepresenting or underrepresenting certain groups? As people go through the exhibit, they will have programs, and those programs have questions about issues of human relations so that they can grapple with them."
At the exhibit's debut, the student photographers will serve as docents to ask visitors those questions as they view their work.
The students in the Dream Dialogue program previously have participated in other ADL youth programs, which often include trips in the U.S. and abroad to further their education about cultural diversity. For "Faces of LA," the students worked for a year and traveled to many places that they had never visited, says Melissa Morgan, assistant project director for A World of Difference Institute.
Shirley Eshaghian, 16, of Encino found the mix of education and art in the Dream Dialogue program particularly appealing. "I've always been interested in taking pictures," she says. "It was always something I've wanted to do. I finally got the chance with this program."
ADL provided digital cameras and photo mentors who trained the students. Eshaghian found that the program fit nicely with her schoolwork at Reseda's Cleveland High School, where she's studied tolerance, race and gender as part of the humanities magnet program.
She also enjoyed capturing her family's Persian Jewish culture at a Passover Seder, as well as taking photos of strangers on Olvera Street and Little Ethiopia. "It gives me such a fulfilling feeling to be part of something that reaches out to people of all cultures, and it's amazing to touch someone's life with a picture," she says. "Hopefully, that's what we did with this exhibit."
The program was also rewarding to Jonathan Lloyd, 18, now attending San Francisco State University, because he learned more than just the basics of photography.
"It taught me a lot and opened my horizons. Now, I appreciate everybody," says the recent graduate of Hamilton High. "We learned how diverse L.A. is. Everyone lives together in a melting pot. Everybody gets along. Everyone keeps L.A. going, no matter what their race is. It was just a great experience. I'd recommend it to anyone."
Kamille Bradley, 17, a freshman at UCLA, says the program opened her eyes. "I've lived in L.A. for most of my life," says the View Park resident. "But the Dream Dialogue program showed me the cultural and ethnic diversity of L.A."
Bradley's favorite photo captured a group of children on Olvera Street. "It's of a little black kid and some older Hispanic kids all dressed up in little sombreros on a donkey," she says. "I liked it because they're all little kids unaware of the discrimination that goes on in the world. It has such innocence to it."
`Faces of L.A.'
Where: MTV Networks,
1633 26th St., Santa Monica
When: Tonight, 6:30
Cost: $100 per person, $150 per couple, with proceeds going to the Anti-Defamation League. High school students with school ID admitted free.
Info: (310) 446-8000, Ext. 241
Photos will be exhibited Sept. 15-
Oct. 15 at the Beverly Hills Municipal Gallery, City Hall, 450 N. Crescent Drive, as well as other venues throughout the year.