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 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
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.
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.
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.
I was awarded a World Press Photo, Second Place, Nature, stories, in 2017 for “Pandas Gone Wild.” In 2015, I received a Second Place, Singles, award in the World Press Photo Nature category for “Orphaned Rhino,” which is also from my body of work on Northern Kenya, like this year’s prize. This work is a long term examination of the change in the relationship between people and animals in the region.
In the photo above, keepers feed baby elephants at the Retiti Elephant Sanctuary in northern Kenya, the first sanctuary in Africa to hire indigenous women as keepers.
Please have a look all of the World Press Photo stories. Some will break your heart, others may make you laugh and hopefully inspire all of us to work harder to find solutions to our planet’s most pressing challenges.
You can also see my lecture at the World Press Photo Festival, where I shared the full arc of my photographic journey, including this story on the Retiti Elephant Sanctuary.
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.”
Momondo published an interview with Ami Vitale about her work traveling the world, covering stories that unite humanity – be it endangered animals, local communities or social unrest.
Ami has spent the past 18 years traveling from country to country, telling one story at a time. Whether it’s social unrest in Asia, the last northern white rhinos in Kenya or the award-winning photo story of the world’s most iconic endangered animal, the giant panda – Ami has lived in mud huts, contracted malaria and even donned a panda suit, all in keeping her philosophy of “living the story.” Throughout the years, Ami has kept returning to the same places, engaging with the local communities. She has made it her mission to tell stories that challenge existing prejudices.
I am honored to have my work represented as exclusive limited editions by National Geographic | Fine Art Galleries. The galleries are places of learning where conservation of natural resources, the importance of natural places and the wildlife that inhabit the world come to life with every photographic creation. Behind every one of the iconic images is an amazing story.
“I took this photo at the end of the day in a tiny village in the far east of Bhutan. My motto is: I’m the first there and last to leave. I am up before sunrise and I’m the last one to go to bed. My key to success is patience. Ninety-nine percent of the time I’m not taking pictures. I’m asking questions, listening, exploring, waiting and watching, and getting to know people so they will let me into their world.
On that particular day, I was walking around this village with a gaggle of kids, who all spoke perfect English. Normally when I travel around the world, people are always asking for things like candy or money. Tourism leaves a mark, and it’s not always a good one. These kids just wanted to show me around, though. I was about to call it quits when I passed this temple and saw this young monk closing the door to the monastery.
Later that night, when night had fallen, I heard a tapping on the door of the room I was staying in. It was those same children bringing me a lovingly, hand-knitted textile, along with a photo of themselves and a sweet note saying, “We don’t want you to forget us.” I still have that note and the gift and will never forget them.”
This week, I will be taking over The Nature Conservancy’s Instagram account (@nature_africa) with photos of Loisaba Conservancy (@loisaba_conservancy) in Laikipia, Northern Kenya. Loisaba is an important elephant corridor, with more than 800 elephants spending significant time there, and it plays a critical role in maintaining ecological connectivity between Laikipia and Samburu. I am excited to be able to share this special place with you. You can follow along on my Instagram, @amivitale, and with @loisaba_conservancy and @nature_africa.