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Ami Vitale ( In the beginning, photography was my passport to meeting people, learning, and experiencing new cultures. Now it is more than just a passport. It’s a tool for creating awareness and understanding across cultures, communities, and countries; a tool to make sense of our commonalities in the world we share. Nikon Ambassador and National Geographic magazine photographer Ami Vitale has traveled to more than 100 countries, bearing witness not only to violence and conflict, but also to surreal beauty and the enduring power of the human spirit. Throughout the years, Ami has lived in mud huts and war zones, contracted malaria, and donned a panda suit— keeping true to her belief in the importance of “living the story.” In 2009, after shooting a powerful story on the transport and release of one the world’s last white rhinos, Ami shifted her focus to today’s most compelling wildlife and environmental stories. Instyle Magazine named Ami one of fifty Badass Women, a series celebrating women who show up, speak up and get things done. She appeared alongside a group of incredible women including Jane Goodall, Christiane Amanpour and Ruth Bader Ginsburg. She has been named Magazine photographer of the year in the International Photographer of the Year prize, received the Daniel Pearl Award for Outstanding Reporting and named Magazine Photographer of the Year by the National Press Photographers Association, among others. She is a five-time recipient of World Press Photos, including 1st Prize for her 2018 National Geographic magazine story about a community in Kenya protecting elephants. She recently published a best-selling book, Panda Love, on the secret lives of pandas. Vitale was the subject of the Mission Cover Shot series on the National Geographic Channel as well as another documentary series featuring Madagascar (Over the Islands of Africa). She lectures for the National Geographic LIVE series, and she frequently gives workshops throughout the Americas, Europe, and Asia. Her photographs have been commissioned by nearly every international publication and exhibited around the world in museums and galleries. She is a founding member of Ripple Effect Images, an organization of renowned female scientists, writers, photographers and filmmakers working together to create powerful and persuasive stories that shed light on the hardships women in developing countries face and the programs that can help them. She is also on the Photojournalism Advisory Council for the Alexia Foundation. Currently based in Montana, Ami Vitale is a contract photographer with National Geographic magazine and frequently gives workshops throughout the Americas, Europe and Asia.


LACP Interviews Ami Vitale

LACP asks Ami Vitale ten questions about her background, career in and beliefs about photography

Los Angeles Center of Photography: What kind of photographer are you?

Ami Vitale : I’m a photographer, filmmaker and writer sharing stories about our fragile relationship with the natural world.

LACP: How long have you been shooting?

AV: 20 years.

LACP: Where did you get your training?

AV: University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill.

LACP: When did you know you wanted to devote your life to photography?

AV: When I realized it was an option!

LACP: Did you ever come close to giving up?

AV: Many, many times.

LACP: Have you sacrificed anything by being a photographer?

AV: It sounds romantic to travel the world but the reality is that you must be emotionally self reliant. I look back on experiences I had and now wonder how I got through some of them. They were sometimes unimaginable, often lonely and occasionally utterly terrifying. I’ve had malaria, but you expect to get sick. It’s the psychological dangers that scare me the most. I’ve been harassed, threatened and learned quickly as a woman that I have to be thoughtful about how and where I work. No picture is worth my own personal safety. I know we all have obstacles in life and I choose to focus on the positive. I found my voice by using my so called “weaknesses” as my strengths. I used the fact that I was an introvert as my hidden superpower. By first listening, I was able to gain the skills I needed to become a storyteller and then use those skills to empower others and amplify the things that connect us all.

LACP: What have you gained by being a photographer?

AV: As a young woman, I was painfully shy, gawky and introverted. When I picked up a camera, it gave me a reason to interact with people and take the attention away from myself. It empowered me and in the beginning, photography was a passport to learning and experiencing new cultures. Now it’s much more than that. It’s a tool for creating awareness and understanding across cultures, communities, and countries; a tool to make sense of our commonalities in the world we share. The reason I keep going, traveling and telling these stories is because I meet the most inspiring people every single journey I make. When you meet individuals, often who have very little resources or political power and witness the powerful work they do to create a better world, it’s humbling. They inspire me and make me believe in the power of one individual to change the world. I am so profoundly grateful to meet the real heroes in this world and I want to do everything I can to amplify their important voices.

LACP: What classes do you teach at LACP?

AV: Documentary Photography.

LACP: What do you love most about teaching?

AV: Photography and storytelling allows ourselves to wonder and when we experience wonder, we fall in love with the world in a new way. There is no greater joy than being a part of helping others to learn new skills and discover new ways of seeing the world.

LACP: What advice would you give someone who is thinking about making a career in photography?

AV: The truth is, very little “clicking” happens and it’s not only about travel. I travel to some astonishing places but the secret is about going deep and revealing more than just an “exotic” image. Sticking with a story for years helps you understand the complexities, people and issues that are not always immediately obvious. Empathy and earning trust is the most important tool you can have. The trick is to get access to places that no one else can get to, and the secret to this is to know your subject better than anyone else. So my advice to those who dream about this is to find a story close to you. You don’t need to travel abroad. What you do need to do, however, is tell a story better than anyone else can, using your own unique perspective. If you find your own story and show complete and utter dedication, then you will find a way to carve out a career.