Street Sense Vendors Tour National Geographic’s Photo Camp

Kristen Elstner shows her photo of Naval Acad. Graduation

Matailong Du

Street Sense vendors and volunteers were invited to the National Geographic Museum on April 22, 2015 for an exclusive tour.

“I took this photo,” said their guide Kristen Elstner, thumbing through a National Geographic magazine to a photo of the United States Naval Academy graduation ceremony in Annapolis, Maryland.

Elstner, executive director of National Geographic Photo Camp: Vision Workshops, founded the program over 12 years ago. The Photo Camp crew travels the world to places such as South Sudan, Haiti, and Mexican border towns to give young people between the ages 13 and 17 a medium of expression. Through this program, youth have a voice and a chance to tell their own stories visually.

68 camps have been held where participating teens were given a camera and encouraged to let their creativity flow.

“Photography can share emotions–a moment, and we rely on the eye of the photographer to capture that,” Street Sense vendor Angie Whitehurst said. “When each of us look at it, we see something different…and that’s exciting.”  Whitehurst said she has been going to the National Geographic museum for many years.

Elstner’s presence and the time she dedicated to the tour gave more meaning to the visit.  She attends as many camps as possible, and is invested in sharing their story. Elstner could not identify her favorite trip, as she finds them all good. However, she did say that one of her favorite projects was working with  the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration’s Ocean for Life program. The project brought together Middle Eastern and American students to tell their stories regarding ocean conservation through photography.

Elstner and her team also host local camps, where they put their energy into diverse causes such as the communities affected by hurricane Katrina in New Orleans and the Refugee Youth Project at Baltimore City Community College.

Elstner believes that it is best to see a community from the perspective of someone who has been born and raised in it.  The crew works closely with a group of about 20 youth for five to six days. They mentor every step of the way. The youth tell the stories of their community. Each is given an assignment. One photo essay may focus on an orphanage, while another documents a refugee camp.

The exhibit is divided by themes such as love, community, self-image, home, survival, and work.

In February, 2015, a weekly photography workshop with similar goals was begun at Street Sense. Through this workshop, Street Sense vendors are given cameras and learn a skill they use to tell their stories and show the world from their point of view. Sue Dorfman and Michael Jordan conduct the workshop; they saw the relevance of the Photo Camp exhibit to the Street Sense workshop and reached out to Kirsten Elstner to coordinate the trip.

According to Whitehurst, “It’s exciting to see people from all over the world, their pain, their agony, their happiness, their serenity, moments we can share… Coming on this excursion was like starting a brand new day…I had so much in my mind; it was exciting and uplifting just seeing the photographs.”

information about New Signature, a Washington DC tech solutions and consulting firm


email updates

We believe ending homelessness begins with listening to the stories of those who have experienced it.