Rediscovering LA Through Photography and Philanthropy

Jurmeddorj Nordog, Mongolian throat singer and musician, photograph by Audrey Stein

An Interview with Audrey Stein, by Emma Mayerson

Traveling is in my bones.  As a child I used to dream about traveling to faraway lands.  As an adult I have traveled to Southeast Asia, Central Asia, China, Nepal, India, Papa New Guinea, Indonesia, Africa, Australia, New Zealand and South America.  Before each journey, I study the history, culture and customs of my destination.  Once I arrive, I try to capture the spirit of indigenous cultures, many threatened by extinction, through the lens of my camera. Finally, before I return home to Los Angeles, I often make a philanthropic gift to help meet an unmet need that I have witnessed during my travels.

For decades now I have been an active philanthropist, but until recently my philanthropy was solely directed abroad.  Why is that? Perhaps this is because while traveling abroad I spend my time in remote communities where there are many needs. As a photographer, I am especially drawn to cultures and communities that are struggling to survive in today’s competitive global economy and increasingly westernized world. Moved by what I see abroad, I have until recently chosen to focus my philanthropic efforts solely outside the borders of the United States, far from home.

Then I joined the Los Angeles Giving Circle, a Women’s Foundation of California group of donors who pool their funds to support low-income women and girls in Los Angeles.  Though I often drove to downtown Los Angeles from my home in West LA for concerts or movies, before joining the LA Giving Circle I had little firsthand knowledge of what was going on in the city itself.  As a member of the circle not only did I meet fun, engaging and like-minded women, I also met Los Angeles in a new and different context.  My first year I conducted site visits to organizations in Los Angeles that were candidates for funding.  I was amazed by how much of LA I had not seen: the diverse cultures, the immense need and the extraordinary people fighting to improve the lives of their communities. I realized that while focusing my photographic lens and my philanthropic goals solely abroad, I had missed much of what was happening in my own community.

Since this realization I have decided to direct more of my energy towards Los Angeles.  In addition to deepening my commitment to the giving circle, I have started to direct my camera lens toward my own community as well.  Recently, I partnered with a young Mongolian photographer to document the vibrant Mongolian community in LA.  Sharing these stories and increasing this community’s visibility in Los Angeles has truly opened my eyes to the richness of the city I live in.  Joining the Los Angeles Giving Circle, addressing some of the unmet needs and learning a little of the unwritten history of Los Angeles has been a gift to me as a storyteller, a photographer and a philanthropist. 

The Los Angeles Giving Circle is a fun, engaging way to learn about Los Angeles and give back to your community.  Circle members come from all over the city and range in age from their twenties to their seventies. We are just beginning our grantmaking process and there is still time to join!  To learn more contact Kim Kenny at kimk@womensfoundca.org.

To lean more about Audrey Stein’s photography please visit her website by clicking here.

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