The AjA Project: Photography Programs for San Diego Youth


Our model puts youth at the heart of driving social justice efforts in their own communities. Our program offerings range from intensive short workshops to month-long programs. They include in-school and after-school settings, as well as community partnerships to deepen the work of like-minded organizations.

Find Your Voice

Form self-identity, re-imagine & strengthen sense of self

  • Programs that fall under Find Your Voice have a goal of helping participants turn the lens inward and utilize photography as a tool for self-reflection and identity formation .
  • Programs Offered: Intensive workshops, condensed semester courses, full semester-long sessions

Example Program: Journey is an after-school program that utilizes participatory photography methods to address the behavioral health, linguistic ability and social capacity of middle and high school refugee youth. Each year the program serves approximately 100 youth from over 27 countries.

Use Your Voice

Understand and impact community

  • Programs that fall under Use Your Voice have a goal of helping participants turn the lens outward, learn about the factors that influence communities, and learn how/apply photography as a tool for change
  • Programs Offered: Intensive workshops, condensed semester courses, full semester-long sessions

Example Program: PhotoCity teaches youth to document their environment, develop narrative, and identify opportunities to create positive change. Through this exploratory process, students discover the power of photography as a communication tool as well as a platform for civic engagement.

Raise Your Voice

Elevate storytelling and dialog to societal level through public art

  • Programs that fall under Raise Your Voice have a goal of giving a greater voice to youth and communities, while utilizing art to strengthen community and spark dialog (creative place making)

  • Programs Offered:  Both large and smaller scale partnership-driven public art

Example Program: The AjA Project frequently installs public art installations that feature participants work throughout the city of San Diego. For example, in March 2016 we installed a large-scale photography mural, created in collaboration with The Jacob’s Center for Neighborhood Innovation, in a sequence of six, 16-foot by 16-foot vinyl panels that wrap around the FOOD 4 LESS building in Southeast San Diego. The installation featured portraits of local Southeast San Diego youth in the Market Creek Plaza of Southeast San Diego.

Other Programs

Youth Advisory Council

The Youth Advisory Council (YAC) Youth Media team consists of teens from ethnically diverse backgrounds who live in, and report on, issues in the community of City Heights. Reporting alongside professional journalists in traditional medium platforms, YAC students offer a youth perspective on important community issues. Doing so positions young people as knowledge bearers in their communities and elevates their voices into the public sphere, giving the power of narrative back to the individual- a recipe for social change.

Full STEAM Ahead

AjA’s Full STEAM Ahead program builds on the national movement to integrate the arts into STEM education (science, technology, engineering and math) education creating STEAM. With photography as our primary learning tool, the curriculum incorporates direct and indirect inferences to math, engineering, technology, and science through photographic principles.

The Full STEAM Ahead curriculum utilizes a three-pronged approach:

• Teach basic photography techniques as a way to introduce STEM concepts
• Engage students in lessons about STEM through hands-on, creative activities
• Inspire students to pursue STEM careers by integrating in-class lessons with visits and guest lectures by professionals in relevant fields

ZNYMKA Project

In partnership with the Centre for Cultural Management, Ukraine, The AjA Project is launching The Znymka Project, an initiative working with orphaned and underserved youth in Western Ukraine. Research indicates that marginalized youth in this region face a significantly increased risk of becoming involved in criminal activity, prostitution and human trafficking, and have a great need for alternative intervention programs.

Participants of the Znymka Project will learn how to use the camera as a tool to reflect on past experiences and shape a new vision for their future. The Znymka Project is designed to support youth to improve communication skills, develop career and educational pathways, build leadership skills and improve behavioral and physical health. The participants’ program will culminate in a public exhibition of images and narrative, serving to educate the broader community about social issues impacting marginalized youth in Ukraine.

Why We Do It

Our theory of change provides the foundation and direction of our work.

How We Do It

Participatory models are intended to reverse power dynamics and provide a venue for self-guided reflection, reconciliation and growth

What is Participatory Photography?
The participatory photography process is the underpinning for all of AjA’s programs. Participatory photography is a creative modality that uses photography to help participants analyze their personal and social landscapes. This process of self-exploration is designed to validate and empower the participants’ perspective, and provide an avenue for self-guided reflection, reconciliation and group dialogue.