During the pandemic, photographers who are used to working in exotic locations have been focusing on more local subject matter, opening up new avenues of creativity. Correspondent Rita Braver talks with Ami Vitale, whose work frequently appears in National Geographic magazine, and lifestyle photographer Gray Malin, about how the lockdown forced them both to reach a new understanding of their work – and their purpose.
B&H published an in-depth feature on Ami Vitale, covering the story of her career trajectory from conflict photographer to documenting the natural world. Thanks to one well-timed assignment focusing on people’s relationship to nature in remote locations worldwide, Ami’s whole photographic career shifted.
“That chance for reflection, to look at the natural world, helped me put all the pieces together,” Vitale says of this project. “I realized that all the conflicts I had been covering were ultimately about our resources. That the biggest story, which I had been missing, was our natural world and what we’re doing to it. It was one of the most transformative moments in my career.”
After receiving a Master’s degree in filmmaking, the scope of Ami’s work expanded further, which the story explores along with sharing her advice for other photographers and information on the gear she prefers. It emphasizes her mission to share stories of hope and to encourage people everywhere to take action to preserve the world for future generations.
Though the number of pandas in the wild has risen in recent years thanks to various conservation efforts, especially in China, pandas remain a threatened species for a couple of reasons: their natural habitat keeps shrinking due to deforestation, and they’re hard to breed in captivity. Vitale believes that the recent incline in the panda population is a sign of hope for all of us, though, even as we’re bombarded daily with alarming headlines about climate change. “The story of the panda is a perfect metaphor for what we can do to turn things around,” she says. “We are at a turning point and the world is fragile and vulnerable. The choice is ours now. I want to tell people not to feel helpless and remind them that the power of individuals to make a difference is real.”
I have been named as one of fifty in InStyle Magazine’s Badass Women, a series celebrating women who show up, speak up and get things done. I believe all of us are “badasses” in our own way, but it is still an unbelievable honor to have been included, alongside so many inspiring women, including Jane Goodall, Christiane Amanpour, Stephanie Sinclair and Ruth Bader Ginsburg. See the full list here.
Further, for the InStyle August issue honoring spectacular women, I had the chance to interview one of my favorite Badass Women, Sasha Dorothy Lowuekuduk, Reteti Elephant Sanctuary’s first female head keeper and one of the first indigenous Samburu women keepers in all of Africa. I’m so proud of everyone at Reteti where all the women and men are working to not only protect elephants, but are also breaking stereotypes and pushing the boundaries. Read my full Q&A with Dorothy at InStyle.com.
Over the last two decades, Ami Vitale has travelled to over 95 countries, writing, taking photographs and now making films, driven by belief that telling stories helps connect people rather than emphasize differences. Besides working with National Geographic Magazine, she conducts photography workshops all over the world and is publishing a book, Panda Love: the Secret Lives of Pandas.
In this piece, “How I Got Here: Ami Vitale,” she speaks to Creative Review about how she discovered photography, making an impact and more, and tells the stories of some of her images.
Through its 159 pages, the book takes viewers on an exclusive look behind the scenes of China’s panda breeding centers and captive release program, chronicling the lovable bears’ journey—from blind, hairless newborns no bigger than a stick of butter to full-furred adults who tip the scales at more than 300 pounds.
Native to the forested mountains of central China, panda populations suffered in the late 20th century from poaching, deforestation and encroaching human development. However, with the backing of the Chinese government, the creatures are slowly multiplying in the rugged terrain. And now, as Vitale details in Panda Love, scientists are working to not only breed baby pandas, but release them back into the wild.
Read more about Ami’s process photographing pandas here.
Ami offers some background on her career and the stories she shares in her lectures, particularly focusing on Sudan, the last male Northern White Rhino. Ami had first met Sudan at a zoo in the Czech Republic, years before she captured the heartbreaking image of his final moments alive. It was this story that marked her shift from photographing conflict to focusing on stories about animal and environmental conservation.
The BBC published a feature on Ami Vitale’s life and work, “Ami Vitale: A Life Devoted to Photography.” It offers a behind the scenes look at other elements that go into having a successful career in photojournalism, including the need for photographers to often fund their own work in order to do justice to a long term story that extends beyond editorial budgets. The story also focuses on the connection between Ami’s environmental work and her earlier stories about people.
Ami explains: “As a photographer, the more I’m asked to document people and their issues, I realize I’m documenting nature, and the more I get asked to document nature, I realize I’m photographing people’s lives. It’s one and the same. In a world of seven billion people, we must see ourselves as part of the landscape. Our fate is linked to the fate of animals.”
Ami Vitale was a recent guest on REI’s podcast, “Wild Ideas Worth Living.” Her wild idea? To use photography to help people from around the world understand each other and connect. To raise awareness about cultures, communities, animals, and the environment.
Ami is a world-class photographer who has traveled the world on assignment for publications like National Geographic and the Associated Press. She got her start in journalism working as a war correspondent, and now focuses on stories, videos, and photos about culture, wildlife and the environment. As a storyteller, she’s traveled to over 90 countries, lived in mud huts and war zones, contracted malaria, and even donned a panda suit.
Ami Vitale spoke to the New York Times about the importance of regular data backups and a digital asset management workflow in their story, “A Beginner’s Guide to Backing Up Photos.” She emphasizes the need for multiple backups, since hard drives can fail and cloud storage companies sometimes go under as well. Once you experience drive failure and loss of images, as Ami has in the past, you never want to make that mistake again!
For more information and advice on protecting your photos, read the full story here.