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.