Today we continue our Non-Profit Interviews with Critical Exposure!

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We are so excited that Critical Exposure is part of the Clickin Moms Nonprofit Program.  Can you tell us a little about Critical Exposure and the mission of your organization?

We are so excited to be a part of the Clickin Moms Nonprofit Program!

Critical Exposure’s mission is to teach youth to use the power of photography and their own voices to become effective advocates for school reform and social change. We pursue our mission using a three-pronged strategy that focuses on youth empowerment, public engagement (through photography exhibits and other public displays of our students’ work), and social change. We seek to empower youth by encouraging them to explore their artistic and leadership potential.  What better way to give youth a voice than through images captured from their perspective?

How are youth able to become involved in your program?  In what ways have you seen Critical Exposure influence their lives?

Youth get involved in our program through a couple of different outlets, but mostly we reach youth by providing our curriculum in their schools or after school programs. We have established partnerships with many public schools to include our program in their regular art, civics, or elective classes. When we work in a school or after school program, we encourage the youth to think about an issue that affects them as a group (school nutrition, security policies, lack of transportation, etc) and to work as a team to document those issues and advocate for change within their schools and communities.

We have seen our program influence the lives of our students in many powerful ways. Some of our students have struggled in school in the past — several have repeatedly dropped out of school, and one has been suspended 16 times. These students have become some of the most engaged students in our programs, and typically become leaders among their peers. On a broader level, we’ve seen our students use our program to create much-needed change in their own schools and communities. Students have used our program to build a library in their school, get funding for a community garden in a food desert, and more.

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Much of the student work produced through Critical Exposure is quite moving.  How do you approach educating the students about photography principles?

Students develop an understanding of the history of photography and advocacy by researching photographers and images that have influenced social justice movements in the past. They receive training on the principles of photography — framing, lighting, composition, etc. — and use the images of famous social change photographers like Gordon Parks and Dorothea Lange as guiding examples for creating their own work. Students receive cameras to carry at all times in order to have more opportunities to capture images that occur during the course of their daily lives.

Throughout the course of the program, students are visited by professional photographers who share their experiences in the field, give advice and feedback on the students’ photographs, and lead workshops on issues like storytelling and editing.

You have a big event approaching on May 22.  What is the Zoom In Exhibit all about?

Zoom In: National Lens, Local Focus is Critical Exposure’s 8th annual exhibit of student photography, multimedia, and writing. This exhibit is our big opportunity every year to premiere the best youth photography taken in our program, introduce the public to the issues depicted by our youth, and to facilitate a conversation between the public, public officials, and our students about the needs of youth in the D.C. community. It is also often the first time many of our students have been in an art gallery, much less as the exhibited artists.  This year’s exhibit theme is intended to address the connection between national education issues, and how they play out in the D.C. community.

We are hosting an opening reception on May 22nd from 6-8pm. All are welcome, and we do ask for a suggested donation of $35. We hope to see some local Clickin Moms there! Click here to register.

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Your organization has a large presence in Washington D.C.  How might other cities join in with your efforts?

We have worked in many cities outside of D.C. – Albuquerque, Philadelphia, Baltimore, rural Mississippi and Arkansas, just to name a few – and are always interested in working with youth across the country. If there is a school or group that works with youth that is interested in bringing Critical Exposure to their city, they can email to start that conversation!

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How can others support you in your mission?  Are there ways for photographers to become involved with the work of Critical Exposure?

As a non-profit organization, we depend on the support of others to pursue our mission. Photographers can donate their work to our annual photo auction in October. If they are local, they can potentially work with youth in the classroom, on photo-walks, and in our multimedia boot camp.  Additionally, we depend on the work of volunteers to help us present exhibits, reach public officials, and more. You can see our volunteer opportunities here and sign up to help out!

We are always in need of financial support to provide cameras to students. You can click here to make a donation and to find out how your support can impact the life of one of our students. We are a 501c3, and all donations are tax-deductible.

What do you think is the most significant aspect of your organization?

We train youth to express themselves through photography, and to use their images to create a real and lasting social impact.  We are developing a new generation of community leaders that has the creativity to imagine new solutions to old problems, the belief that youth have the right and the agency to fight for those solutions, and the skills to hold communities and public officials accountable for taking action.

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Thank you so much for the great interview and the opportunity to learn more about your organization!