The Lucie Awards is the premiere annual event honoring the greatest achievements in photography. The photography community from around the globe pays tribute to the most outstanding people in the field. Each year, the Lucie Advisory Board nominates deserving individuals across a variety of categories. The goals of The Lucies are threefold: to honor master photographers, to discover and cultivate emerging photographic talent and to promote the appreciation of photography worldwide. Ami Vitale will be honored with the 2022 Humanitarian Award.
The Lucies will be held at Carnegie Hall on Oct. 25, 2022. Tickets are available at lucies.org.
World-respected, Montana-based photographer Ami Vitale has captured extraordinary scenes in more than 100 countries. Yet there’s one place that remains at the top of her list when it comes to creative inspiration: Northern Kenya.
Since her first visit to the region in 2009, the Nikon Ambassador and National Geographic photographer has returned regularly to immerse herself in the stories of heartbreak, but more importantly, in the stories of hope. It’s through this hope-filled lens that Ami then shares her compelling imagery of Northern Kenya. Now, with a strong connection to the community and the many conservation organizations there, Ami finds herself returning time and again. We chat to Ami about her lens on the world, her favorite spots to marvel at all living things and her top Travel Gems to explore in Northern Kenya.
There is no better time than the start of the year to explore talented photographers who all have the power to inspire others. Each one of them with a unique visual voice and creative approach, these are ten female photographers you should know and follow….
Ami Vitale is an American photographer and filmmaker who captures impactful wildlife and environmental stories to highlight conservation issues. Vitale has traveled the world to cover all aspects of humanity — from violence and conflicts to the endurance and strength of the human spirit — and has shifted her focus to wildlife and the environment in recent years. This change of direction was marked by photographing the transport and release of the world’s last white rhinos in 2009.
Vitale shoots for National Geographic, is a Nikon Ambassador, has been named as one of 50 Badass Women by Instyle Magazine, and has numerous other professional accolades, awards, titles, and other types of international recognition. However, it is Vitale’s enthusiasm and dedication to powerful storytelling that shines through.
Besides her educational work, Vitale is also a writer and has published a best-selling book, titled “Panda Love.” The book contains Vitale’s photographs taken in China, and documents the efforts to breed pandas and release them back into the wild.
Photographer Ami Vitale documents endangered species and the powerful bonds they share with their caretakers. This week on the My Modern Met Top Artist Podcast, we interview Vitale and get a behind-the-scenes look at how she captured some of her most legendary pictures.
Ami Vitale was a war and conflict reporter for almost a decade before she made the switch to capturing images of our planet in peril: “I had this profound realization that all these conflicts, horrors of the world were deeply connected to nature,” she tells Rolling Stone from her home in Montana. “You could look at almost every single one of them and realize it was all connected to resources — everything we need comes from nature.” She began photographing endangered species, like the Northern White Rhino, hoping to get others tapped into the urgency of the problem. “I started to find stories about not just what we’re doing to the planet, but answers, too,” she says. “You can continue to talk about the horrors of the world, shock people, but what were we going to do about it?”
One thing she could do, she decided, was to get this kind of work into everyone’s home — because if people could look at a stunning image of an important subject every day, it might inspire them. So, for the past four years, Vitale has been running print sales that benefit conservation nonprofits — raising, she says, nearly $3 million over four years through fundraising and selling artwork donated by herself and her peers. “The first time I did this was because the U.S. was going to reverse the ban on the elephant tusk trade,” she says. “I was so enraged and felt so hopeless that I launched a print sale to benefit an elephant sanctuary I’d been working with.” That raised $50,000 in a couple weeks, she says.
Now, officially registered as the nonprofit Vital Impacts, Vitale and her cofounder, journalist Eileen Mignoni, have assembled an impressive group of 100 photographers — including National Geographic cover photographers, celebrated fine artists, up-and-coming talents, and one Dr. Jane Goodall — to donate images in a sale that lasts through Dec. 31. Sixty percent of profits go to conservationist groups, while 40 percent goes directly to the photographer. “Even if people don’t buy images, I hope they get inspired by the artists,” Vitale says.
Here, Rolling Stone has gathered selection of images and their stories to perhaps inspire others to begin to care about these species that, as Vitale says, lived here for millions of years — but couldn’t outlive us.
The final moments before the death of the last male northern white rhino, a 66-year-old elephant swimming in the ocean, and renowned primatologist Jane Goodall searching for chimpanzees in Tanzania in the early 1960s; these are all moments captured in a collection of powerful photographs that have been donated to raise funds for conservation projects.
Works by 100 photographers from around the world will be sold until the end of the year by Vital Impacts, a non-profit that provides financial support to community-orientated conservation organizations and amplifies the work of photographers who are raising awareness of their efforts. Contributing is a who’s who of nature photography, including Paul Nicklen, Ami Vitale, Jimmy Chin, Chris Burkard, Nick Brandt, Beth Moon, Stephen Wilkes and Goodall herself.
“Each image has a really profound story behind it,” said Vitale, an award-winning photographer and co-founder of Vital Impacts. “I worked really hard when I was curating this to make sure that these photographers are diverse, but the one thing they all share is this commitment to the planet. They’re using their art to help conservation.”
I am so excited to share my new short film, Shaba, about the Reteti Elephant Sanctuary’s first matriarch elephant and the extraordinary bonds she formed with a herd of baby orphaned elephants and the people who rescued her.
Shaba arrived traumatized after poachers shot her mother dead. This is a story about learning to trust those that we fear. She teaches us about love and our connections to all of life around us.
Ticket to view Shaba online are $10 and are available at amivitale.com/product/shaba. All ticket sales will go directly to Vital Impacts, a new non-profit supporting grassroots organizations who are protecting people, wildlife and habitats.
Shaba has been selected as a finalist in THREE categories – Conservation Short Form, People & Nature Short Form and Our Human Planet Short Form – at the Jackson Wild Media Awards. Widely considered the most prestigious honor in natural history media, the Jackson Wild Media Awards celebrate excellence and innovation in science and nature storytelling. These are the Oscars of nature filmmaking.
It has also been selected as an Award Finalist in the Wildlife Conservation Film Festival, held in New York, where it will be screened on October 20. And the short film will be featured in the upcoming Innsbruck Nature Film Festival in Innsbruck, Tyrol, Austria from October 19 – 22, and at Docutah November 1 – 6 at Dixie State University in St. George, Utah.
The fundraiser benefitting Reteti Elephant Sanctuary has ended. Together we were able to raise an astonishing $250,000 which will be used to buy milk, blankets and medicines to support the baby elephants and the people who have committed their lives to protecting them. Reteti Elephant Sanctuary is the first indigenous owned and run elephant sanctuary in Africa.
Thank you for caring and being a part of this journey!
A decade ago, a group of endangered Rothschild’s giraffes was relocated to a remote lakeside peninsula in Kenya. But in recent years, due to rising water levels, the peninsula became an island, trapping the giraffes. In 2020, a team of conservationists set up a daring rescue—one that wildlife photographer Ami Vitale traveled to document. This is her tale.
It sounds like the start of a bad joke: How do you move eight giraffes—including a newborn calf—off an island in Africa’s Western Rift Valley? Answer: It isn’t easy, and it involves a boat, blindfolds, and earmuffs. We follow conservationist David O’Connor on an epic (and awkward) journey to save these endangered animals.
Ami was interviewed in May by Toronto Film Magazine about her filmmaking and her experience making Shaba.
In the mountains of northern Kenya, a Samburu community is doing something that has never been done before. They’ve built a sanctuary for orphaned elephants to try to rehabilitate them back to the wild. The project is not just changing local attitudes about elephants, it’s changing attitudes about women too because the secret to Reteti’s success is all because of the special bond between a group of local women keepers and one special elephant named Shaba.
Reteti Elephant Sanctuary is the first-ever indigenous community-owned and run sanctuary in all of Africa, where rescued orphaned elephants are looked after by local keepers from the Samburu community. They are rehabilitated and raised and then reintroduced back into the wild. The sanctuary is empowering young Samburu women to be the first-ever indigenous women elephant keepers in all of Africa. At first, the community didn’t think there was a place for women in the workplace. Now, the success of these women elephant keepers is unlocking new possibilities and setting a powerful example for young girls, hoping to pursue their dreams.
What’s happening there, without fanfare, is nothing less than the beginnings of a transformation in the way the Samburu people relate to wild animals. This oasis where orphans grow up, learning to be wild so that one day they can rejoin their herds, is as much about people as it is about elephants.
This is a personal story about a group of women and an elephant named Shaba who changed each other’s lives. This film is a powerful reminder that we are a part of a complex world created over millions of years, and the survival of all species is intertwined with our own.
Reteti began in partnership with Conservation International who provided critical operational support and work to scale the Reteti community-centered model to create lasting impacts worldwide. It was our pleasure to speak to the director of Shaba, Ami Vitale.
How did you start making films and what was the first film project you worked on?
I began as a writer and photographer working for international publications like National Geographic magazine, so my background was already in strong visual storytelling. When the DSLR cameras evolved to include HD video, I pushed myself to embrace these new tools and learn to make short films. While photography is an incredibly powerful medium, films allow us to amplify important voices and stories in other impactful ways. Film brings these stories to life by truly listening to one another’s stories. My first film, Bangladesh: A Climate Trap, documented the mass migration of people who are being impacted by climate change. Bangladesh faces a double threat: rising sea levels as a result of the melting ice caps and glaciers, and as the world warms, more extreme weather patterns. Monsoon rains in the region are concentrating into a shorter period, causing a cruel combination of more extreme floods and longer periods of drought. The poorest are the most affected by climate change but they are the least responsible for it. The country’s future, however, and the fate of its impoverished millions, will be determined not necessarily by rising sea levels, but by the behavior of its citizens, neighbors and outside powers. Whether it becomes one of the great human tragedies of our time or a model for the future depends on these choices. Right now Bangladesh appears far away, but our planet’s ecosystem is an intricate web and the lessons learned here are important for all of humanity.
What was the inspiration behind the making of your film?
For my next film, Shaba, I spent the last 6 years working with a Samburu community in northern Kenya who are rescuing orphaned elephants. What’s happening at the Reteti elephant sanctuary, is nothing less than the beginnings of a transformation. This oasis where orphans grow up, learning to be wild so that one day they can rejoin their herds, is a story that is as much about people as it is about elephants. They are doing something that has never been done before, building the first ever indigenous owned and run sanctuary for orphaned elephants to rehabilitate them back to the wild. The film focuses on the indigenous women elephant keepers who are changing not just how the Samburu relate to wildlife but also how people relate to one another.
What is the most challenging aspect of being an independent female filmmaker in the film industry?
It’s very difficult to get a foothold in the industry. Who you know matters and those doing the hiring end up excluding new talent. Perhaps it feels like a risk for them and so most of the opportunities are given to the same people who often happen to be men. I am working in the natural history space and most of my colleagues are all white men. Until our industry takes more chances to empower new voices, we will not have a multitude of perspectives.
How difficult is it to fund indie films?
In my experience, it is very challenging but I have been lucky and learned how to find people who believe in my projects. The challenge has been that I end up using so much time and energy away from the creative to find funding.
Please name three of your most favorite directors. How have they been influential in your work?
There are so many directors I admire but the ones that inspire me the most are the strong women directors who have carved a path in what can be an inhospitable industry. They have found ways to use their voices to create narratives that help us imagine a more equitable world. Their work is not just compelling and heartwarming but they use their crafts to create new narratives and reframe the old narratives.
Agnes Varda has always been a great inspiration. Her work resonates because she was also a photographer before she was a filmmaker. She had a photographer’s eye and paid very close attention to everything that was in frame. All of her films were social commentaries, addressing feminist issues. She filmed womens stories, lives and struggles and had a profound impact on the way I see the world. A journalist once wrote that “she was so far ahead of the world that she had to wait for it to catch up to her.”
Kirsten Johnson’s 30 years of making films and her deep connection to the people she films has resonated deeply with me. She shows the importance of authenticity and intimacy in making films. Her own trajectory from being a camerawoman to director and filmmaker has personally been very inspiring.
Maïmouna Doucouré uses her voice and art to ask difficult questions and empower women. She takes stories we may think we understand and turns them on their head. Her work challenges Western audiences to think about how when we objectify women, we also oppress them.
Why do you make films?
Films are an incredible tool for creating awareness and understanding, a tool to make sense of our commonalities in the world we share. After a decade of covering wars as a photojournalist, I realized that all the stories about people and the human condition were always connected to the natural world. In some cases, it was the scarcity of basic resources like water. In others, it was the changing climate and loss of fertile lands but always it was the demands placed on our ecosystem that drove conflict and human suffering. Today, I have become a filmmaker and my work is not just about people. It’s not just about wildlife either. It’s about how small and deeply interconnected our world is.