WASHINGTON, D.C. (January 8, 2024) –– The National Geographic Society announced today that renowned storytellers Kirsten Elstner and Tara Roberts have been named National Geographic Explorers in Residence. In their new roles, Elstner and Roberts will join the Society’s staff, bringing their programmatic work in-house and helping to bolster the organization’s storytelling prowess. Explorers in Residence are esteemed, preeminent members of the Explorer community whose programmatic work will have greater impact and be accelerated through institutional support and funding.
“Storytelling teaches us, shapes us, challenges us, and inspires us to act. It’s why we believe in the power of storytellers to illuminate and protect the wonder of our world,” said Jill Tiefenthaler, the Society’s Chief Executive Officer. “Tara and Kirsten are remarkable at this — through their craft, they shine a light on the untold and unacknowledged stories of the past, share the important stories of our time and motivate the next generation of storytellers. We are honored to accelerate and elevate their impactful work as Explorers in Residence.”
A National Geographic Explorer since 2003, Elstner has helped introduce photography and storytelling to young people around the world through National Geographic Photo Camp, the program she founded and leads today, for over 20 years. Created to inspire students through immersive experiences with instruction and guidance from world-class National Geographic Explorers and photographers, Elstner has led more than 145 Photo Camps and worked in more than 35 countries around the world. Altogether, Photo Camp has reached 3,000 young people globally. Elstner has curated Photo Camp exhibitions at the Kennedy Center in Washington, D.C., and the Nobel Peace Center in Oslo, Norway, highlighting the voices of refugee youth. Elstner and Photo Camp were recently featured on the TODAY show as part of the 20th anniversary of Photo Camp.
Elstner has served as a photographer for the International Red Cross and Red Crescent in Bangladesh. Her work has been featured in the New York Times, and Time and Life magazines.
“Being part of the Photo Camp story since we began this work 20 years ago has changed my life. Our mission has always been to mentor and inspire youth to see the power of their own voice through photography,” said Elstner. “I’ve had the honor of understanding and sharing the stories of so many incredible communities around the world through their eyes. I’m excited to join the Society as an Explorer in Residence and to continue to work with my fellow Explorers to reach young people, ensuring they know that their stories matter and can make a difference.”
As a National Geographic Explorer, Roberts has spent years diving with and chronicling the journey of a group of Black scuba divers with the organization Diving With a Purpose as they searched for sunken slave trade shipwrecks around the world and uncovered the lost stories of the transatlantic slave trade. Her journey was turned into a six-part, National Geographic-produced narrative podcast called “Into the Depths,” as well as a cover story for the March 2022 issue of National Geographic magazine. “Into the Depths” has been downloaded over half a million times, was featured in the top 200 on Apple Podcasts and was named Spotify’s “Best Podcast of the Week.” In 2022, Roberts was named the Rolex National Geographic Explorer of The Year for her illuminating work to raise awareness of the more than 400-year history and legacy of the global slave trade.
Roberts was a Fellow at MIT’s Open Documentary Lab. She worked as an editor for CosmoGirl, Essence, AOL, EBONY and Heart & Soul and edited several books for girls. She founded her own magazine for women “Too Bold for Boundaries.” She also served as director of communications for the Ashoka organization and coached social innovators for the Red Bull Amaphiko Academy.
“The journey behind Into the Depths allowed me to help reimage and recenter the story of the global slave trade — and the Society was an incredible partner in that process,” said Roberts. “I’m looking forward to this expanded role and opportunity as an Explorer in Residence to tell an even fuller story that continues to uncover, inspire and create change.”