Visual storytelling with photographer and archivist Elvert Barnes


Flickr has been a hub for photographic storytelling since 2004. Here, you can discover photographers that have built their craft over the years all while sharing their processes, creative visions and experiences with the Flickr community. This year, as we continue to celebrate 20 years of Flickr, we want to introduce you to some of those storytellers. 


Meet archivist and photographer, Elvert Barnes. Elvert was born on October 5th, 1953, the 6th of 7 children to Elsie and Bernard Barnes in St. Mary’s County, Maryland. “Since my maternal grandparents owned a 75 acre farm, I spent summers and most of my teen years living with them and sometimes working on their farm,” said Elvert. “After graduating from Great Mills High School in June 1973 with honors, I attended the University of Maryland College Park studying business management and accounting.” Soon after, he began a position in a co-op program with the federal government. He has since worked in the high-end catering industry in Washington DC. If you follow his work on Flickr or other platforms though, there is no doubt that you know Elvert as a visual storyteller and documentary photographer.


“I’ve always had an interest in photography, dating back to my teen years,” said Elvert. “Unfortunately, I no longer have any of the photo albums and shoe boxes of my photographs from the late 1960’s through early 1980’s as they were left with my grandmother, and after her 1998 passing my brother Joe took them to his Ohio home. All of which have since been discarded after his untimely 2020 passing.” Today, the photos that remain in his possession are well cataloged and documented on a variety of sites, including Flickr. 


Elvert reflected on his early days as a photographer, “In December 1991 my partner, Richard, surprised me with a Minolta camera as a Christmas gift. From that moment forward, rooted in street and urban photography, the documentation of my life has been a primary focus.” In those early days with his new Minolta in hand, Elvert traveled, with the goal of documenting his adventures. From trips to San Francisco, CA with Richard, to solo trips to NYC and friend meet-ups in Chicago, Elvert captured each moment on film. As a writer, Elvert, also enjoyed combining his love for photography with journaling when archiving each trip. This resulted in a robust collection of history preserved for himself and for anyone looking to visit those moments in time through his eyes. 


Elvert says that each event, protest and street shot he’s captured has helped to shed light on his experience as a Black gay man. Some of that early documentation includes photographing National Coming Out Weekend in 1992 as well as a visit to the National Mall in Washington DC to photograph the October 1992 AIDS Quilt display


Elvert says that his photography process is ‘rooted in the street’. He explained further, “Seldom, do I leave my apartment without a camera. So much of my picture taking reflects my daily life. Depending on my work schedule, I may transfer these daily life images from my cameras to a portable hard drive on a weekly basis, but in the case of events or protests transferring images to a hard drive and archiving detailed information in a notepad takes place immediately.”

Elvert continued “I post my images primarily to Flickr, under a creative commons license, I also have an Ipernity account.  In addition and of equal importance to my archiving has been my (other) various websites. “ These sites help Elvert track all of his ongoing projects and also assist in organizing the content chronologically and by event for easier browsing. Since Elvert uses the creative commons attribution on many of his images, his photos are often available via Wikipedia as well.


When heading out to shoot, specifically for his photojournalism projects, Elvert often brings two cameras, one for close up shots and one for long distance shooting. He said, “I currently shoot with a DSLR Canon T8I, for which I have 3 different lenses, one of which is a Sigma 18 – 300mm.  The other two lenses are 18 – 55mm and 75-300mm. My second camera is currently a mirrorless Canon R7, for which I have two different lenses; 18 – 150mm and 100 – 400mm.”

We also asked about his process for choosing which events and subjects to capture. To that Elvert explained, “ In the beginning and for several years afterwards, I’d photograph events that had little or nothing to do with my personal interests.” In some cases he would document events on assignment for independent news organizations or as a contributing photographer. “As a 70 year old Black gay man, most events and protests that I document now have direct connections to my heritage and interests. While I may get shots of speakers, performers and VIPs … if not on assignment … I prefer mingling, marching, running and if needed, dancing with the crowd,” Elvert said. 

The story behind the photos

We wanted to hear more about Elvert’s work and the stories his photos tell. He shared some special shots with us and gave some context as to why they are important parts of his archive. 


Elvert Barnes, Self Portrait, Chelsea NYC, 8 July 1992

“This photo was taken on 8 July, 1992 at (friend) Lothar Wullert’s apartment in the Chelsea neighborhood of NYC, which was one block from where I shared a studio apartment with my best friend Frank. I met Lothar Easter Sunday morning, 19 April 1981 when Frank and I were partying and dancing at The Saint (a gay, members-only club located in the East Village).” Elvert described this time period as a difficult one for him. This photo came about while he was testing the self-timer feature on his new Minolta camera. “I wanted to document myself in the process of journal writing. Lothar and I remain close friends as he and his partner currently live in the Hell’s Kitchen neighborhood of NYC.”



Brother Joe Barnes, No Point Farm, Dameron MD. Christmas Day, 25 December, 2004

“Taken by me, of my younger brother Joseph Barnes, at our grandparents former No Point Farm in Dameron, MD during our Christmas Day, 2004 visit with the family in Southern, MD. These photos are among my favorites of the farm, since I no longer have any that I had taken decades before. During this visit, Joe and I both expressed that we wished we could repurchase the property, which he considered until his March 2020 death.”



Without Apologies: LGBTQ Public Displays of Affection Docu-series

Elvert’s archives are rich with documented protests and rallies which is where this next shot was captured. He said, “In connection with my ongoing Without Apologies: LGBTQ Public Displays of Affection series, this picture was taken during the Now More Than Ever!: LGBTQ Mass Wedding Ceremony. This ceremony took place on the steps of the Lincoln Memorial in Washington, D.C, during the April 2000 Millenium March on Washington for Equality weekend. “When documenting protests, I always try to get a few pictures of demonstrators and counter demonstrators as well as the police, in the same photo.  This image captures a male couple who, moments before, had participated in the wedding ceremony staging a kiss directly in front of the Fred Phelps Westboro Baptist Church Anti-Gay counter demonstration,” Elvert described.  You can find more of these images in Elvert’s ongoing series, documenting Marriage Equality for same-sex civil unions.



Montreal Gay Pride Parade Protest March, 2022

Elvert said that his photos from Pride celebrations throughout the years make up one of his favorite photography docu-series. Beginning in 1993, where he photographed the Washington DC Pride parade, he has since attended many other Pride events over the years from Montreal to NYC. 



Laid Back. Million Man March. Oct. 1995

“Born in 1953 and having come of age during the 1960’s, I identify as Black American vs African American,” said Elvert. This photo is one of his favorite shots, taken on October 16th, 1995 during the Million Man March in Washington, DC. More of Elvert’s Black Heritage project can be found on his official site and cover events from Black Lives Matter Protests to the annual NCNW Black Family Reunion gatherings which began back in 1989 by civil rights leader, Dorothy Height.



Lighted Candle Vigil May 2022 – National Police Week

Every year, Elvert also photographs the events that correspond with National Police Week. He said, “Among my favorite and most important ongoing projects is National Police Week which takes place in Washington, D.C. each year during the week of 15 May which I first documented in 1994.”

Self expression in its many forms

When asked about other passions Elvert has, besides photography he said, “Journal writing, which has direct connections to my photography, is one of the reasons that I seldom leave my apartment without a camera and notepad.  In fact, my writings and photography from 1992 through the early 2000’s are part of a BLACKOUT Book Project, details are still under development”. Other writing projects like his  Cause and Effect 2024 New Year Word Mantra photo essay are also in the works. Elvert finds music and creating music mixes an important part of his artistic expression as well. “In the late 70’s and with an ever growing record collection, I shifted to cassettes,” said Elvert. “In December 2007, the MIXOLOGY archive was launched. There has not been a time that my intentions were not to create video projects that feature my photography with my music mixes. Along with my cameras and a notepad, I often leave my apartment with an mp3 player plugged into my ears.”


As to his time on Flickr, Elvert has Flickr member and friend Brian Long to thank for the introduction, being given a membership back in 2004. Elvert said, “From the very start, it (Flickr) has shaped almost every aspect of my photography.  For the first year or so, I was shooting film and I’d scan as many of my photo projects as possible to digital format and upload them to Flickr.  Even after purchasing my first digital camera in September 2005, I continued to scan old images shot on film for digitizing to Flickr.”

“Not only is Flickr excellent for sharing photos and connecting with other photographers and institutions, but also for storage, ” Elvert explained.  “Since Flickr has made it clear that they have no intention of going anywhere I am confident the many web pages that I have created that link to my Flickr albums and collections are safe, as archiving is of great importance to me.”

To follow along with more of Elvert’s archiving journey check out his Flickr site as well as his official site. He can also be reached via email at