When Hurricane Harvey made landfall along the Texas Gulf Coast in August 2017, it brought days of torrential rains to Houston and surrounding areas. Houston residents are quick to cite that the city received its average yearly rainfall in just a matter of days.
The rain and resulting flooding devastated the city. Lives were lost. Tens of thousands of homes were damaged or destroyed. Some estimate that 1 million vehicles were destroyed. Causing $125 billion in estimated damages, Harvey is second only to Hurricane Katrina as the U.S.’s costliest hurricane on record.
The effects of the deadly storm are still being felt across the Houston community. But, amidst the loss and hardship, stories of community, goodwill and rebuilding have emerged.
In August 2018, one year after the storm hit the area, National Geographic Photo Camp engaged local high school and college students in an immersive, weeklong course to learn the basics of storytelling, photography and photojournalism. Made possible with support from 21st Century Fox, National Geographic Photo Camp set out to equip these students with the skills and confidence needed to tell their community’s stories of Hurricane Harvey and its aftermath.
Twenty students participated. Some were experienced photographers and some had never held a camera previously. But all were eager and enthusiastic to learn and to use their new skills each day.
Lessons were led by National Geographic contributing photographers Dominic Bracco and Kirsten Luce, who taught students how to operate a camera — for example, setting ISO, aperture and shutter speed — and how to craft powerful images by choosing subjects, using framing techniques and providing context.
Each afternoon, the students broke into groups to shoot at outside locations that portrayed the state of recovery and rebuilding experienced throughout Houston. They visited households severely damaged by the storm, construction sites, homes being repaired by Recovery Houston (a local volunteer-based organization) and one of the bayous (river-like drainage systems) that flooded during the storm. As Harvey indiscriminately affected households and communities in the region, students met with families and individuals who were diverse in every aspect, each with unique, deeply personal stories within the larger shared story of the storm.
The state of repair of the damaged homes was also quite diverse — some were all but repaired with little residual damage and others were still uninhabitable. People still badly affected by the storm, whose plight was highlighted by the students, included an elderly man who had been living alone in a single room of his badly flood-damaged home for nearly the entire year since Harvey struck (Recovery Houston had begun to work with him just days prior to our Photo Camp) and a woman whose family had to move to a different state as her home is still uninhabitable. As they learned to tell the stories of this diverse group of people through the medium of photography, our students not only developed valuable photography and journalism skills, but also had meaningful interactions with whose lives had been changed by the hurricane.
As the week progressed, the photographs that the students produced began to show that the lessons were taking hold. The Photo Camp team found numerous great examples of quality photography and photojournalism. The students’ progress was inspiring, and their enthusiasm for learning photography was reflected in their work.
Photo Camp Houston culminated in a final show at the Houston Center for Photography. An opportunity for the students to share their work with their families, friends and community, the show exhibited the student’s photos taken throughout the week. Following the show, the students were presented with certificates of achievement from National Geographic.
Through National Geographic Photo Camp, the Houston students acquired valuable photography skills and had a meaningful introduction to the world of photography and photojournalism that they will be able to build upon in the years to come. The students were also able to share common experiences with, and help tell the stories of, the families and individuals who were so greatly affected by the storm.