“There were many conquerors that came to this country. And after each war or conquest, our country had to rise again. I think that the future is bright, because everything is possible if you work hard for it.”—Photo Camp Sarajevo student
A palpable energy filled the classroom when the cameras were presented to the students, each teenager feverishly unwrapping his or her own personal Olympus camera—new, shiny, and ready to be filled with stories. This would be the tool that the coalition of 20 students ages 14 to 19 would be using in Sarajevo and its surrounding communities for the next six days of National Geographic Photo Camp—and it was theirs to keep.
“Here, we are learning how to talk to people without words. Photography gives us the ability to talk to people that do not speak our language. Everything we learned here should be used to connect people. We should transport our knowledge to other people and, in that way, show them that we are all the same and that photographs really ‘speak’ a thousand languages. I learned here that I don’t need words to be heard, and I hope that other people will find out how amazing that feeling is.” —Martina Jukic, Photo Camp Sarajevo student
Students representing 19 cities and various cultural backgrounds came together 20 years after the Dayton Accords ended the Bosnian War. Instructed by photographer Stephanie Sinclair, along with teams from Internews and National Geographic, their goal was to explore each other’s lives, document shared values, and create meaningful visuals that inspire and build trust.
To achieve this goal in a region with a history of conflict, their primary direction was to make meaningful portraits of one another. Well, not just portraits but true illustrations of their new friendships. Encouraged to sit down with an assigned partner, they drank espresso and asked each other about homes, schools, routines, and how they would like to be photographed over several sessions, learning along the way that a meaningful portrait comes from a meaningful connection. At the week’s end, the final result was one photo from each student hung in the Art Gallery of Bosnia and Herzegovina, in an exhibit presented to their community and national officials.
“Photographs and Photo Camp are important because they give us the opportunity to engage humanely with people we don’t know and who are from a different religion or ethnicity … Every picture that I take is important for my country just to show what it has been through, what happened in my country. Many times she has been burned to ashes and has always risen from the ashes.”—Hamza, Photo Camp Sarajevo student
But the portraits and the inspiration didn’t stop there. During the week the kids took to the streets, practicing their newly developed interview skills within the community, approaching strangers and engaging with them about their lives, jotting down their stories. The result: environmental portraits and street scenes that represent the colorful and rich diversity of the country itself.
Stemming from those experiences, a student-led online collaboration called Humans of Bosnia and Herzegovina began on the day the camp concluded. The students, all of whom were born after the Bosnian War ended in 1995, now collect and post stories from their own towns and lives. In a country where many youth are leaving to work and attend school elsewhere, this collaboration gives a voice to those who are still there. “I will not leave, I will stay, because it is easy to give up when it gets hard, and it is precisely the moment when we have to use more strength, hope, and courage,” student Ajila Klicic states, a sentiment that has been a theme for a new generation of connectivity and hope in 20 years of peace in Bosnia and Herzegovina.
National Geographic Photo Camp Sarajevo was conducted in partnership with Internews, with support from USAID and the U.S. Embassy Sarajevo’s Office of Public Affairs. Cameras for National Geographic Photo Camps are provided by Olympus.
The camp participants were mentored by National Geographic contributing photographer Stephanie Sinclair, along with editors and trainers Jeanne Modderman, Ross Goldberg, Jim Webb, and Jake Rutherford.