NEW WILMINGTON, Pa— Kirsten Elstner, Director of National Geographic Photo Camps, came to Westminster College Monday, April 3, to inspire, encourage and spread positivity to students through her career story.
“Everyone has their own story to share. Everyone can use their talents to make the world a more positive, encouraging and better place like I wanted to in college,” Elstner said.
Elstner was brought to Westminster by the international studies and peace studies programs and spoke in Berlin Lounge at 7 p.m. to share her career story. She is the founder and director of VisionWorkshops, a nonprofit organization using photography as a mentoring tool to provide positive learning experiences for disadvantaged youth and director of National Geographic Photo Camps, a global photography workshop series for young people.
The audience responded well and there was a lively question-answer session after her presentation.
“I was reminded of home. The presentation felt raw. It was a good reminder that photography is not so much about the nitty gritty excoriating details as it is about every person’s own different perspectives,” Robert Turk, Westminster student whose hometown is Antananarivo, Madagascar, said.
Elstner explained that the students she works with are from ages 18 to 22 and are from all around the world. She recently worked in Baltimore with kids from Iraq, the Congo, Yemen, Nepal, Sudan, Central African Republic, Burma and several more countries most of the children spent time in refugee camps. She brought the students on the Appalachian Trail to take pictures and learn about photography.
Elstner strives to help the kids she works with realize how important their story is. She tries to give these kids the power to make their own stories in the future. Some of the kids she works with do aspire to be photographers, but for most of the kids she is just using photography to show them that they can learn any new tools and use them to follow their dreams. Photography also gives them a way to capture what their lives look like.
“We find the kids hope by letting them show how beautiful their world is,” Elstner said.
During the Photo Camps, students are assigned different categories to take pictures of. These assignments include pictures of what struggle is to them, what is home to them, what is beautiful about where they live and a self-portrait.
“I learned from Photo Camp that I don’t need words to be heard by people across the globe. My photos can speak for me. When you have a camera in your hand everything becomes beautiful, even if you are in the worst situation,” Seema Gul, a Photo Camp student in Pakistan 2012, said in a quote found on the Photo Camps Instagram.
Elstner started the Photo Camps for National Geographic in 2003. Since then these camps have been hosted in more than 70 different countries. Her most recent camps were in Kenya, Cuba and the Native American Pine Ridge Reservation in South Dakota. Photo Camp is planning to go to Greece and Norway soon.