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First Exposures leverages the power of mentoring relationships and photography to empower young people to thrive, express themselves creatively, and become leaders in their communities.


First Exposures fosters the academic and social development of youth impacted by social and economic inequity by providing an accessible space for them to enhance their self-confidence, develop their creativity, and gain a passion for learning. We provide youth ages 11-18 the opportunity to learn photography in a community-based setting with support from a photographer who serves as both a mentor and a positive adult role model. Through time spent in experiential learning environments like darkrooms, museums, outdoor spaces, and even trips abroad, mentees are able to cultivate diverse perspectives, build lifelong friendships and widen their horizons. Since 2004, over 95% of our mentees have gone on to pursue a college education with many returning to First Exposures as mentors, teaching artists, and committed community members of the FX family.

First Exposures classes are located conveniently near BART and many bus lines.  



Academic Year Mentorship Program

Since 1993 each First Exposures participant is matched one-to-one with a photographer who provides individualized guidance and serves as a volunteer mentor and positive adult role model. Photography is the catalyst by which our mentees acquire vital life skills and it is the vehicle through which we deepen their intellectual, academic and developmental experiences. Classes are offered in both traditional and digital photography.

Summer Group Mentoring Program

In the summer of 2014, we introduced our first group-mentoring program offering our services for 30 youth. In comparison to our academic year program, this class operates in small group settings with two mentors and five mentees acting as a team to provide a unique shared experience and more peer-to-peer learning. Using state-of-the-art digital SLR cameras we provide a very similar experience to our regular program in an intensive eight weeks.

Summer Artist Residency

Since 2017, First Exposures Artist Residency has helped to cultivate the next generation of artists, image makers, and cultural leaders through our 8-week off-site residency in which 6-10 experienced photographers ages 16 to 21 years old develop and execute a personal photography project with the support of a Teaching Artist, visiting artists, and a cohort of peers.

Meet our Teaching artists

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Nick Haste

Teaching Artist: Digital Photography

Nick Haste is an Academy of Art University graduate with a BFA in Photography. After serving 15 years in the Navy, he decided to pursue his passion for photography. In addition to teaching at First Exposure, Nick is a substitute teacher at Brandeis School of San Francisco. Nick loves to capture images that create new narratives about Black beauty and desire, embracing historical elements and inventing new futures. In his spare time, he is always looking for the next adventure, whether a backpacking trip with his two dogs and partner or hopping on a flight to explore a new destination.


Delilah Ponton

Teaching Assistant

Delilah, First Exposures mentee alumni, is a photographer and a collector of albums, especially 70s era rock bands. She also loves film photography and vintage cars.  Delilah is growing up in the San Francisco east bay, the youngest sibling with two older brothers.  She comes from a family of artists. Delilah graduated from Oakland School of the Arts with a Visual Arts emphasis. She became a First Exposure mentee in 7th grade and continued until graduating from high school in 2020.  She is currently happily serving as a Junior Mentor/Teaching Assistant and is also participating in FX's Residency Program this year. Delilah's dream is to be a photographer in Portland.

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Alana Rios

Teaching Artist: Darkroom Photography

Alana Rios is an artist using historical and contemporary photographic processes to explore the relationship between landscape images, gender, and power. Her work has been exhibited at Root Division, Embark Gallery, and Joshua Tree National Park Council for the Arts. She earned a BA in photography and printmaking from Bennington College in VT and an MFA in photography from San José State University. She is currently a lecturer in photography at San José State University and resides in Oakland, CA.

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Karina Patel

Teaching Assistant

Karina Patel, First Exposures mentee alumni, is a Bay Area photojournalist. Photography has been her passion since the first time she used a DSLR camera at First Exposures. She loves how photography can provide a deeper, visual understanding of any given story and has the ability to spark conversation and change. Karina studied with Pulitzer Prize-winning photographer Kim Komenich at San Francisco State University and interned at the San Mateo Daily Journal covering city news. When she's not learning all that she can about visual journalism, she enjoys the beach, hikes, and any dessert with chocolate in it.



Erik Auerbach
Executive Director

Erik Auerbach found photography at eleven years old and has never turned back. Having witnessed firsthand the power of image-making in a young person’s life he began volunteering with First Exposures for one year prior to taking over as program director in 2005. Until 2013, when the program became independent from its previous sponsor, he taught the program's weekly darkroom-based photography classes. His photographic work has been exhibited and published nationally, and he has taught photography at the Academy of Art University and served as a guest instructor at UC Extension in San Francisco and the San Francisco Art Institute. In the past, he has volunteered with Rebuilding Together and more recently, the San Francisco Symphony’s All San Francisco Concert Committee that issues the Ellen Magnin Newman Award since 2015 and was a  co-chair from 2016 - 2018 and co-presented workshops at the National Mentoring Summit in Washington, DC each year since 2016 and at the European Mentoring Summit in 2020. He participated in the Summer Institute on Youth Mentoring at Portland State University in 2010, 2013, 2015, and 2017. Erik attended UCLA and holds a BFA from San Francisco State University. Instagram


Aneeta Mitha
Public Programs & Digital Strategies Manager

Aneeta Mitha is a visual artist who ​came to photography through supportive mentorship and their desire to use art for personal and collective change. ​From sending annual delegations of ​students of color to the U.S./Mexico border to provide direct aid​​ to ​creating cross-cultural workshops between ​international students​ ​and community leaders in Palestine, Aneeta has utilized creative programming as a means ​to make change​. Further integrating their ​passions for​ social justice and visual arts, they have taught ​socially engaged photography​​ to low-income communities and youth of color in the Bay Area and New York. ​​Aneeta has been an artist resident at More Art for their work on the personal impacts of gentrification, and a fellow at Brooklyn Community Pride Center for their photo series on queer resiliency.​ Their work has been exhibited at Flux Gallery, the Brooklyn Academy of Music, ​the ​MIT List Visual Arts Center​, as well as, film festivals in the U.S. and abroad. Aneeta holds a B.A. from San Francisco State University in Social and Environmental Justice.

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Ava morton
Development Manager

Ava Morton (she/her) is an artist, writer, and educator based in the San Francisco Bay Area. Ava’s writing and artistic practices are entwined and often focus on archives, linguistics, sound, and the boundaries of the body. Her artistic practice is interdisciplinary, stemming from archival research and often manifests as sculpture, installation, and video. In her most recent sound and installation-based work, she teases out the friction between collective and personal memory; she is currently fashioning sound collages spliced together from found audio, her recordings taken in transit, and recordings from family archives. She has exhibited in various art spaces including, Minnesota Street Project, Embark Gallery, Root Division, Pitzer College Art Gallery, Canyon Cinema Salon, PLAySPACE Gallery, and Hubble Street Gallery. Her writing has been published in Sightlines and 48hills.


Ava is a graduate of UC Santa Barbara with a BFA in Studio Art and Biological Anthropology and of California College of the Arts with a dual MFA/MA in Fine Arts and Visual and Critical Studies.


Our Mentees

Our mentees are creative young people, aged 11-18, with backgrounds that have included homelessness, foster care, or low-income living situations. Our mentees come to us through local schools, after-school programs, and agencies working with youth from all areas in the city and Bay Area, the majority being from the South of Market, Bayview, Tenderloin, Mission, and Western Addition areas.

Our Mentors

Our volunteer mentors are professional, commercial, and fine art photographers with a commitment to youth and to education. The mentees and mentors work together in one-to-one partnerships in a group setting. First Exposures fosters supportive intergenerational relationships in a stimulating environment of active learning.





Alyson Taylor Wong
Andrea Gomez
Austin-Thayer G Marfori
Bobo Li
Jeanne Hauser
Joanna Malpica
Juliana Martinez
Kevin Meynell
Rose Borden
Selina Weiss
Soph Schultz Rocha
Tofe Oluwatofe Salako
Zacharia Jiroun

Baotri Nguyen

Bueno Padua

Cecy Ticas

Christiane Gude

Emi Bertha Nakamura

Kristi Lewis

Lucas Thornton

Shaan Bajwa

Sean Keelan

Wanjun Zhang

Wilton Wong



Andrew Kamin
Bella Bond
Clare Coppel
Gene X Hwang
Justin Pham
Kristine Mendoza
Lindsey McGuire
Lisa Ryers 
Mark Allen
Max Gavrich
Pablo Unzueta

Advisory Board

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