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National Geographic internship gives Grace Spencer the opportunity to showcase her work internationally

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As part of the internship, students had to take photos with a specific theme. Spencer chose motion and this image was part of a National Geographic exhibit in London. Photo by Grace Spencer.
As part of the internship, students had to take photos with a specific theme. Spencer chose motion and this image was part of a National Geographic exhibit in London. Photo by Grace Spencer.

Grace Spencer was 15 years old when she discovered photography at the Appel Farm Arts camp. At the time she had no idea that one day her passion for photography would take her to London, England for a two-week internship with National Geographic.

An 18 year-old Fine Arts Photography major in her first semester at Mercer, Spencer can ordinarily be seen looking through the viewfinder of a camera, taking more photos to add to her already extraordinary collection.

She wasn’t your typical Hightstown High student, as her love for taking pictures always had her working on an extra project or challenge that was given to her by her art teachers. Her talent and dedication for photography landed her the opportunity to take part in a two-week (July 1-12) internship this past summer with National Geographic.

“I was overwhelmed when I got the opportunity to go on this trip because I realized how serious it was. It took me like three weeks to absorb the fact that I was going on a trip like this one,” said Spencer.

Spencer was the only New Jersey resident that attended the internship which hosted 30 students from all over the world. The students stayed at the University of London and were broken up into seven groups, each of which had its own mentor.

Grace Spencer. Photo by Zac Santanello.
Grace Spencer. Photo by Zac Santanello.

World-renowned documentary photographer Anastasia Taylor-Lind mentored Spencer’s group that consisted of students from Hong-Kong, Dubai, and cities all over the U.S.

When asked what she thought of Grace’s opportunity, her mother, Lynn Spencer said, “come on, I mean any mother would be thrilled. It was really a fantastic experience for her.”

During the trip to London, National Geographic assigned Spencer three different stories to work on, one of which was about Aerial Photography. Spencer said that was her favorite assignment, but she described how much she enjoyed the amount of street performers that she was able to interact with in London.

“The first day we went out shooting at South Bank, which is right next to the London Eye, and there were all of these street performers. I was watching this man make humongous bubbles. He had two humongous sticks with rope tied between them, and he dipped it in soapy water and ran around with bubbles. I paid him for it so he ran up and bubble slapped me. I got one of my best shots of the entire trip that day,” said Spencer.

Spencer particularly enjoys taking photos of buildings. She said that one day during the trip she saw a door that caught her eye immediately. So she set up her tripod and sat in front of the door for about an hour and a half in the blazing sun, taking all sorts of photos and videos.

“We were given a lot of freedom on the trip, so in the afternoon when the light was good I would just go out and shoot,” said Spencer.

At the end of the trip, the students chose their favorite photos taken by others, and the photos they chose were then displayed at a National Geographic exhibition in London. The photos they chose had to fit a specific theme. The photos that Spencer had on display at the exhibition fit a “motion” theme.

The National Geographic gig isn’t the only résumé builder Spencer has had to this point. When she was 17-years-old, she returned to the camp that jump-started her fascination with photography to teach seven to ten year-olds how to do what she enjoys. She’s also an honorable mention and ranks in the top 14 percent of 10,000 in Photographer’s Forum Magazine, which is an award-winning publication edited for the emerging pro.

When asked what she enjoys so much about photography, Grace Spencer replied, “the ability to make people shut up when they look at your pictures is really satisfying.”

“My house is a shrine, everywhere you look there’s a picture that Grace took,” says her mother, Lynn Spencer.

Spencer gives credit to her parents and two of her Hightstown High School teachers, Heather Lisk and Casandra Fox, for keeping her motivated and working with her as mentors.

Casandra Fox has been teaching English, Humanities, and Art electives at Hightstown for 10-years. “What impressed me the most about Grace was how well she knew herself at such a young age. Grace told me in the first week of school her freshman year [of high school] that she wanted to be a photographer, and right now she is living that dream.” said Fox.

Not only is Grace a phenomenal photographer, but she also knows three languages, plays seven instruments, and she’s had the opportunity to visit four different countries outside of the U.S.

Spencer already took a pre-college photography course at Moore College of Art and Design in Philadelphia, and is currently attending Mercer on a full scholarship that she earned through her dad’s job at an Icelandic Seafood Company.

It has always been her dream to attend Corcoran College of Art and Design in Washington, D.C., and if she’s accepted she plans to do so after earning two semesters worth of credits at Mercer.

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