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National Geographic photojournalist seeks the bigger picture in her career

Ami Vitale focuses on the balance of all things

Award-winning National Geographic photographer and documentary filmmaker Ami Vitale gets more than her feet wet during an assignment in Kenya. Park City Institute will present Vitale on Saturday at the Eccles Center for the Performing Arts. Vitale will share some of her experiences in a presentation called "Wild Hope."
Photo by Bryan Liscinsky

National Geographic’s award-winning photojournalist and documentary filmmaker Ami Vitale has covered wars and contracted malaria throughout her 25-year career, but never let experiences like those drag her down.

“For every one of the most horrific, heartbreaking moments, there was always another side,” Vitale said. “While doing these stories, I also meet the most extraordinary people in some of the most difficult places that will give you so much hope and cause for celebration. There is balance in this world. It’s what we choose to focus our attention on.”

Vitale will share her images and message of hope when the Park City Institute presents “Wild Hope” at 7 p.m. on Saturday, Oct. 9, at the Eccles Center for the Performing Arts.



“I call the talk ‘Wild Hope,’ because I think right now, more than ever, we need to hear the stories that remind us of the resilience of humanity and how much more we have in common than what separates us,” Vitale said. “I’m going to take people on a journey, and I think this is a story for families and everyone to hear right now, because it’s easy to fall into a place of despair if you just turn on the news every night.”

Vitale plans to show how the news only gives viewers and readers a small piece of a larger and global truth.



“Headlines are all that most people see these days, and unless you have a multitude of voices and perspectives, it’s hard to get the whole authentic story,” she said. “These are the voices I have chosen to amplify. They are not celebrities. They’re not politicians. They are people that no one has read about. They are the most unlikely people who are doing the most extraordinary things.”

One of those stories is about the Reteti Elephant Sanctuary in Kenya, said Vitale, one of the National Press Photographers Association’s Magazine Photographer of the Year.

“It’s about this indigenous community who had no political power or resources, but they rescued orphaned elephants,” she said. “Over the years it has become one of the most successful sanctuaries, because they did the impossible. And to do that, they had to have hope.”

Another story is about her coverage of the efforts to save the northern white rhino from extinction.

“I heard about this 12 years ago, and at the time there were only eight of these animals alive,” she said. “At the time nobody wanted the story, but I knew back then it was an incredibly important story to work on.”

Once Vitale laid her eyes on the rhino, she knew there were more stories that needed to be told.

“These ancient and prehistoric creatures had been on the planet for millions of years, but could not survive humankind,” she said. “I decided to dive deeper into the story, and seek out solutions, which led me to all kinds of beautiful stories that I will talk about on Saturday.”

Vitale will also share her experiences covering wars in Afghanistan, the Balkans and Kashmir, and talk about some of the inspiring stories that rise from the ashes of devastation and tragedies.

“I will talk about our deep interconnectedness with not just one another, but with the natural world — the environment, wildlife and keystone species,” she said.

While Vitale has takeaway messages from each of her experiences, she wants her audience to know that their most challenging moments can be their most transformative.

“Those are the moments where we can use our imagination to recreate a different path forward if we open ourselves to them,” she said.

Vitale discovered photography when she was an “incredibly introverted, painfully shy young woman,” she said.

“The camera became this incredible tool for my own self-empowerment, because it allowed me to go out to engage with people and gave me a reason to be there,” she said. “As I began to do more photography, I realized how it could also be a powerful tool to tell important stories and amplify the beautiful voices we need to hear.”

Through her experiences as a photojournalist meeting new people and living amid different cultures, Vitale embraced the responsibility to tell people’s stories in an authentic and meaningful way.

“I spent years in different communities digging beneath the headlines in order to tell more balanced stories,” she said. “While we may see one version of a people, a culture and a place, there is more to the reality once you spend time and dig deep and get to know people and why things are the way they are.”

Vitale utilizes her experience as a photojournalist as one of the founding members of Ripple Effect Images.

“This is an organization made of scientists, photographers, filmmakers and writers, who find stories about women who are being impacted by climate change and are working to find solutions,” she said.

Vitale also serves on the photojournalism advisory council for the Alexia Foundation, which uses photography to give a voice to social injustice, and her latest endeavor is a nonprofit called Vital Impacts, which she will soon open online at vitalimpacts.org.

“I am asking professional and emerging artists and photographers all over the world to donate fine-art prints to fundraise,” she said. “We will donate 60% of all the proceeds to grassroots organizations, and 40% will go back to the artists and storytellers, so they can keep going out into the world to do their work.”

National Geographic Live; Ami Vitale: “Wild Hope”

When: 7 p.m., Saturday, Oct. 9

Where: The Eccles Center for the Performing Arts, 1750 Kearns Blvd.

Cost: $20-$35

Phone: 435-655-3114

Web: parkcityinstitute.org

 


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