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Critical Exposure - Research Paper
6 Mar 2014
Published To

INST 3555

Dr. Jessie Glover

March 6, 2014

Jonathan Hill

Critical Exposure 

            A picture is worth 1,000 words. This is a saying that we often hear thrown around during our everyday lives. If some of those words included subjects including racism, suffering, advocacy, education, community, and change; would you think any differently of the picture or ask who the photographer is?  Just imagine images being created through the eyes of an underprivileged high school student.  Critical Exposure is a nonprofit organization located in Washington, D.C. that does just that, a training program that teaches youth to use photography and advocacy to make real change in their schools and communities. By looking into the Critical Exposure organization, I hope to discover how it works, the changes the organization has made, and how it started.

            It seems that at the most basic level, Critical Exposure has four main concepts that they are trying to accomplish; giving their students the tools to express themselves, the creativity to imagine new solution to old problems, the belief that youth have the right and ability to fight for those solutions, and the skills to hold communities and public officials accountable. Critical Exposure

gives youth in DC artistic opportunities that help them realize they have a voice.  They believe that our younger generations have a vital perspective of our country’s education system.  As both a training program and photography studio, this organization is quite unique and extremely successful.

                        Critical Exposure is based off the idea that students in lower income schools are rarely asked to speak their voice about the injustices of the education system. Therefore, by handing them a camera their voice gets heard. These issues include the poor school facilities, dropout crisis, school-to-prison pipeline, teen pregnancy and school nutrition. Critical Exposure is taking this to another level by displaying student’s photography in and around the DC area. By sharing these images with the public through exhibits in galleries, libraries and public spaces, Critical Exposure is making a significant difference. Since Critical Exposure’s founding in 2004, $550 million dollars have been secured to make crucial improvements in student’s schools. By partnering with high schools and afterschool programs, Critical Exposure works as an extracurricular activity that gives students skills in documentary photography, leadership and advocacy. These campaigns address several economical and social issues in these student’s lives. And thanks to this organization, the reality of their lives is shown to public officials and decision-makers.

            After completing one of the photography programs at their school, students have the opportunity to join the Critical Exposure Youth Internship Program or Fellowship Program.  The Youth Internship is a 9-week program where youth from around the city all come together. The Fellowship Program involves veteran students who work on specific campaigns for various social issues.

            This organization is all about seeing change. With the $500 million dollars Critical Exposure has helped secure, changes include building a new school library, adding new classes to their schools, improving the security processes and winning funding for a community garden have all been accomplished.  Critical Exposure says, “We witnessed significant changes in the students who learn to recognize the power of their images and their own voices to become effective agents of social change.”  The students seem pleased with the results. “If something was unfair before, I would just deal with it. Now I question everything.” Said Samera, an 11th grader involved Critical Exposure program.

Some of the statistics that the program is producing include the following: 175 students served through 16 programs, 4,500 people were able to view Critical Exposure’s students’ photos, 87% of their students reported they believe they can make a different in their schools or communities and nine student photos were featured in national media outlets including the front page of the Washington Post and New York Times Lens Blog.  Critical Exposure has won several nonprofit awards as well as being involved in Foto Week DC, winning the PhotoPhilanthropy Award in 2012 and was named Outstanding Contributor to Arts Education by DC’s Mayor’s Arts Awards. Another quote from a Critical

Exposure student named Byron, a 12th grader, “I was on the verge of dropping out again. Critical Exposure helped me achieve the same high as I got from drugs and alcohol in ways that wouldn’t get me in trouble.”

            Significant changes have clearly already happened because of this organization. The beauty of this type of program is that the possibilities are endless. Students will only continue to find creative ways to not just show problems in their schools, but also in their everyday lives.

            This program was founded by people who have been life-long photography enthusiasts who happened to previously work in education policy, teaching, and community organization. Critical Exposure is run by a board of directors and a creative staff consisting of 10 positions involving titles such as Program Manager, Executive Director, Communications Director, Youth Organizer and Educators. There is also an internship and volunteer program for the organization. Critical Exposure’s donation program is strategically designed to help the students specifically with materials and teaching costs. For example, $35 dollars will frame a student photo, $75 will provide a student with a digital camera and $150 covers the cost of a 90-minute class taught by one of the Critical Exposure instructors.

As a team, the following quote describes what led theme to start this program. “Their experiences of witnessing the absence of students from the decision-making process drove them to create an organization whose mission is to teach youth how to use the power of photography and their own voices to advocate for the vast amount of opportunities and resources they need to succeed.” The founders of this organization believed that using photography for social change could change lives and they were certainly correct. 

 The impact of this organization is incredibly inspiring. The concept has been polished and has proved to be successful. You cannot find anything negative about Critical Exposure no matter where you look simply because this organization truly is genius. As you discover more about the organization, you’ll find that it has actually expanded beyond Washington, D.C. Over 1,000 people have been provided with this program in New Orleans, Baltimore, Philadelphia, Austin and even Albuquerque. This just proves that this concept is definitely working seeing as it has expanded all across The United States.  It is amazing that Critical Exposure accepts the fact that under privileged youth are losing their voice and a change needs to happen. This movement makes one realize the true power of photography. This is so much more than just kids learning how to take pictures. This is positive and serious social change happening with simply the flash of a camera.


Works Cited


"Critical Exposure." Home. N.p., n.d. Web. 05 Mar. 2014.


"Critical Exposure." About. N.p., n.d. Web. 05 Mar. 2014.


Schlaikjer, Erica. "Congratulations to Critical Exposure for Winning PhotoPhilanthropy Award!" Http://www.benevolentmedia.org/. N.p., n.d. Web.





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