Ami Vitale’s journey as a photojournalist has taken her to more than 80 countries. She has witnessed civil unrest, poverty, destruction of life, and unspeakable violence. But she has also experienced surreal beauty and the enduring power of the human spirit, and she is committed to highlighting the surprising and subtle similarities between cultures. Her photographs have been exhibited around the world in museums and galleries and published in international magazines including National Geographic, Adventure, Geo, Newsweek, Time, Smithsonian. Her work has garnered multiple awards from prestigious organizations including World Press Photos, the Lowell Thomas Award for Travel Journalism, Lucie awards, the Daniel Pearl Award for Outstanding Reporting, and the Magazine Photographer of the Year award, among many others.
She has been working most recently with Ripple Effect Images, an organization of well-known scientists, writers, photographers and filmmakers with a mission of creating powerful and persuasive films and stories stories illustrating the very specific problems women in developing countries face and the programs that can help them. In 2010, Ami was a Senior Producer for Multimedia, at the Knight Center for International Media at the University of Miami School of Communication where she got her Masters and worked on a project on women’s pregnancy and infant mortality in Sierra Leone and a feature film about migration and climate change in Bangladesh. She has been the subject of the five-part documentary series “Over the Islands of Africa” and a featured speaker and judge in more than 20 countries from China to Chile. She is on the board of the Alexia Foundation and frequently gives workshops throughout the Americas, Europe and Asia.
Now based in Montana, Vitale is a contract photographer with National Geographic magazine and frequently gives workshops throughout the Americas, Europe and Asia. She can be reached at email@example.com or through Panos Pictures.
Frequently Asked Questions
How do you prepare for an assignment?
It depends where I am going and what the climate and nature of the assignment is but one piece of advice I could give is the old adage…”less is more”. The more you bring, the more you must carry. The less you bring, the more lightly you tread and leave behind. It is much better to try to adapt and fit in and to contribute to local economies. For example, I buy local clothes and food (minus high altitude or specialized equipment). Very often I see people bringing bags and bags of powerbars and supplies and clothing which is completely unsuited to where they may be. In my opinion, you are the guest to this country and place and respecting and taking part in the life around you is an important component to getting the most out of your experience traveling. The more we try to create what is familiar to us, the less experiences we will have and after all, what is the point of traveling if you just want a repetition of what you have at home? It is all about adaptation and experiencing where you are.
What gear do you carry?
I use Nikon bodies and usually just a few lenses but the choice of lenses really depends on the nature of the assignment. If I am shooting wildlife, I need very different lenses, (longer) then when I am doing portraits of a culture. Mainly I like to travel lightly and bring 2 bodies, 3 lenses and a Gitzo tripod. I’ll usually buy medicines in country as they are always cheaper there. Lastly, but perhaps most importantly, I like to bring gifts. It is the minimal that I can do to bring small tokens of thanks for the countless people who give so much to make sure that I am safe and travel well.
Is objectivity an illusion?
Yes, I believe objectivity is an illusion but I also believe that there are a multitude of viewpoints and that no one “Truth” exists. I believe that unless we understand and give voice to these perspectives, reason remains veiled. Ignorance in each other’s stories leads us to assume we know them. It allows us to maintain perceptions of differences based on our own pre-conceived notions.
Is photojournalism dying?
Of course photojournalism is not dying but it has always been a struggle to find support even since I began. Just because magazines and newspapers are going through a difficult period does not reduce the need for great storytelling and I believe now is a perfect time to find opportunity and re-create ourselves for other mediums. I feel its a glorious time for photojournalism and story telling. Our medium is changing and the new opportunities are out there but take a little more work to find. I don’t understand why everyone is afraid of change, the same thing happened to radio years ago. Everyone said it was dead. Photography is not dead and if we can harness all the creativity and tools available to us, we can make some amazing work and deliver it to audiences we never dreamed of reaching before. I see this as an empowering and exciting time.
Where can I find interviews about your career?
This is a blog for Nikon Professional Services where I talk about my style and equipment used on assignment.
The talented Steve Casimiro, a photographer and editor for National Geographic’s Adventure magazine has created a wonderful blog called the Adventure Life. I was honored that he invited me for this interview.
Field Notes from a National Geographic story I did on the Rickshaw Pullers of Kolkata, India.
This is an advertisement I did for Nikon using the D300s camera and video capabilities.
Here is an interview I did about convergence of stills and video for the Poynter Institute. http://www.poynter.org/column.asp?id=2&aid=172745
This is an interview by Susan Markisz for the Digital Journalist, a virtual online almanac for visual journalists created by Dirck Halstead. It was written when I was just beginning my career as a photojournalist in 2003.
Interview conducted by Barry Baum for Nikon on the new D300s that I tested out.
Blueeyes Magazine is an online documentary photography magazine devoted to publishing new long-term project work. It is a labor of love created by a dedicated group of people including John Loomis, Chris Vivion, Matthew Ratajczak, Seth Bro and Jill Thomas.
This was one of the very first interviews I gave for Photobetty.com, which was a true labor of love started by the legendary and lovely Stephanie Sinclair and carried on by Serena Stucke, who is also an incredibly dedicated and talented photographer and editor.
This is a comprehensive gallery of many fine art gallery photographers exhibited together along with photojournalists.
James Robinson is a passionate photographer and has some wonderful interviews here.
Eight Ways to change the World, A photography exhibition on the Millennium Development Goals by Panos Pictures, in association with seven charities.