April 13, 2024

From Freelance to Phenomenon: How Kirsten Elstner’s Lens is Changing the World


Back in 2001, I was working as a freelance photographer for The New York Times and other publications. In the difficult days following September 11, I saw how the world reacted to the tragedy with empathy and a desire for unity, and it made me want to create something with my work that would reject division and add to humanity’s sense of global connection.

So working with other photographers, I created the nonprofit VisionWorkshops to teach photography to young people as the future stewards of our complex world.

Two years later, I brought the idea to the National Geographic Society and that’s how National Geographic Photo Camp came to be. Over the past 20 years, I’ve worked with other National Geographic Explorers and photographers to provide a meaningful introduction to photography for young people from communities around the world.

More than 3,000 students have participated in Photo Camps in 35 countries so far. It’s a program that has unquestionably changed my life and everyone involved. As mentors, we have gained just as much from Photo Camp as our students have, and I am so proud to see the students gain the confidence to share their stories and perspectives with the world.

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