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.
I am excited to share this collaboration with the extraordinary artist Mantra, my wonderful friends at both Reteti Elephant Sanctuary, Sarara Camp and National Geographic, who conspired to make this wild dream into a reality! For many years, I have been using photography and filmmaking to tell the powerful stories of this community in northern Kenya. I wanted to use other mediums and think about ways to inspire creativity and pride around protecting our planet and the creatures we coexist with.
Reteti is the home of the first indigenous owned and run elephant sanctuary in Africa. Rock Paintings are the oldest form of storytelling. The Samburu elders living here guided us to a place that holds powerful symbolism. THIS ROCK was once used by elephant poachers as a place to hide but now, it is a place for community members, elders and visitors to gather. Mantra is the extraordinary artist who brought my two dimensional photo of a wild elephant from Namunyak to life using water based paints. My concept was to create something from nature that was meaningful and ephemeral. The painting will not last forever, but the memory of what has been created in this community will always live on.
Mantra is a self taught painter who has been painting in the streets since 2008. I was honored that he agreed to bring his genius talent and come to Namunyak for this wild idea. The team at Sarara Camp rallied together with friends at Reteti to build scaffolding and Mantra painted this photo free style in one day. Miracles can happen and we can all do more to make sure our children experience the beauty and wonder of this world.
I am working on another project and looking for financial support. Please email me at email@example.com if you are interested in helping me with more initiatives to bring together stories, art and conservation. I believe these stories and art shape us and can change the way we see each other. I invite you to be a part of it.
I am incredibly honored to be partnered again for the Lavazza 2021 Calendar which has just launched! The theme this year is called ‘The New Humanity’ which asks us to work for a better world that is sustainable and just for all of us. Each photo had a meaning and a message. My message was that the environment has always been, and will always be, a social justice issue. We are all connected to one another and the outcome to every single story of humanity is always dependent on nature. The project aims to spread hope, bringing it where it is most needed.
My work was featured alongside these legendary photographers: Simone Bramante, Martha Cooper, Charlie Davoli, Carolyn Drake, Joey L., David LaChapelle, Christy Lee Rogers, Steve McCurry, Eugenio Recuenco, Denis Rouvre and Martin Schoeller.
I was honored to introduce the moving documentary film Kifaru directed by David Hambridge about the last male northern white rhino, “Sudan” at the 7th Annual New York Wild Film Festival opening night. Joseph “JoJo” Wachira flew in from Ol Pejeta in Kenya for the festival where Nikon surprised him with a new Nikon Z 50 and two DX lenses, the NIKKOR Z DX 16-50mm f/3.5-6.3 VR and NIKKOR Z DX 50-250mm f/4.5-6.3 VR presented by Steve Heiner, so he can continue to tell this important story!
I am so grateful to Nikon for this empowering gift. I also wish to extend a huge thank you to Kenya for donating his ticket and to all of you who came out for this powerful evening. ⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀ Currently, I am running a print drive to benefit the rhino keepers who selflessly have committed their lives to these creatures. You can own a signed photo of the moving final moment with JoJo and Sudan while also helping them personally. Details are available at amivitale.com/product/sudan. 100% of the profits will go directly to all the keepers.
I am excited to release a new, behind the scenes film on my work in Kenya with Reteti Elephant Sanctuary for World Elephant Day. I hope it gives a glimpse into the powerful story of a community coming together to protect and save these magnificent creatures. I am grateful to Katy at Sprout Films for her sensitivity and commitment and Nikon for their endless support. Hurry, there is just one day left to buy a print or enter and win a Nikon D5600 camera and 2 lenses, Think Tank Photo camera bag and a print of one of the adorable elephants at at Reteti at amivitale.com/elephants
On Mar. 16, 2019 Ami delivered the talk “Falling in Love With a Unicorn” to a sold out crowd at TEDxBergamo. In it, she discusses the foundations of her work and how falling in love with a rhino named Sudan changed the course of her life and the lives of many others. Watch the whole inspiring talk at https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=00bunXTIKJw
I am thrilled to be offering The Amazon Rainforest Workshop, a trip and workshop of a lifetime with my two great friends and fellow Nikon Ambassadors, Joe McNally and Tamara Lackey. As your photographic leaders, we will be guiding you through the Ecuadorian Amazon Rainforest and the cultural historical capital of Quito.
Ecuador has the highest level of biodiversity per square kilometer of any place in the world. On this workshop, you’ll be immersed in it. You will float by the banks and tributaries of the Amazon River and spot a wide variety of wildlife all while surrounded by the sights and sounds of the jungle. In Quito, you’ll be overwhelmed by the color and the culture. You’ll see panoramic vistas, historic cathedrals and meet the loveliest people you’ve ever know. And, you’ll be able to capture it all, guided by some of the world’s top photographers.
The workshop will be a complete immersion in photography, storytelling and exploration and will focus on landscape, portrait and travel photography. It will include lectures from myself, Joe and Tamara and daily post-processing lab time as well as a number of optional add-ons.
For the majority of the trip, you’ll be staying in the breezy cabanas of La Selva Ecolodge & Spa, a 5-star luxury eco-resort in the heart of Ecuador’s Amazonian Rainforest. The resort is located inside the Yasuni Bioshere Reserve, home to millions of species of plants, birds, rare animals and stunning scenery. The rainforest will soothe you to sleep and birds will awaken you each morning.
As an all inclusive workshop, all freshly-made, deliciously cooked and table-served meals will be included.
National Geographic published “How Women Photographers Access Worlds Hidden from Men” in celebration of their female photographers on International Women’s Day. In the piece, the women reflect on how gender influences their work. In an industry dominated by men, female photographers face additional hurdles to move their careers forward, but they also have an advantage when it comes to accessing personal stories of women around the world.
The story featured Ami Vitale’s photograph of one of the first women keepers at Reteti Elephant Sanctuary, Mary Lengees, affectionately stroking the head of a baby elephant, highlighting Mary’s devotion to caring for the animals. Ami reflects on the photograph, writing, “Though she and the women who work for her encounter resistance, the team at Reteti is united in its mission to rescue abandoned elephant calves, nurse them back to health, and reintroduce them to the wild. It requires vigilance and round-the-clock care, but Lowuekuduk’s passion for saving these 200-plus-pound babies knows no bounds. In a world where we focus only on the challenges and things that divide us, it’s important also to talk about the solutions.”
See the other photographs shared by female National Geographic photographers and read about their experiences telling women’s stories here.
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.
When the National Geographic Instagram account, @natgeo, recently reached the milestone of 100 million followers, they celebrated by sharing albums of their most popular images from the account. Three of Ami Vitale’s photographs were included in these selections, which show the imagery that resonated most deeply with audiences worldwide.
Out of 20,000 photos that have been posted on their Instagram account, the photo of Sudan being comforted by his long time keeper Joseph elicited more reactions than all but one photo ever posted on their feed. The moment resonated across the globe and served as a powerful wake up call to tens of millions of people.