Ami Vitale | Courtesy

Grab your passport and get ready to travel the world with National Geographic photojournalist Ami Vitale.

Vitale, who has photographed humanities and cultures from 105 countries across the globe and worked as a war correspondent, will be giving a talk at the Performing Arts Center at 7:30 p.m. on Nov. 10.

“Every situation you’re in, you can be deeply moved and inspired by how resilient people really are,” Vitale said. “The depths of their generosity was so deeply moving, that I am touched by the people I’ve met and seen, and it always inspires me of what we can be if we choose to be.”

Mustang News reporter, Abigail O’Branovich, spoke with Vitale about “living the story” and building relationships with wildlife and humanity. 

Q: How did you first discover your love for photography?

A: I realized it was this incredible tool for me to overcome my introversion. I was painfully shy and afraid of the world. And then I picked up a camera and all of a sudden it gave me this reason to engage with people. It was like this passport for me to go out and explore, help me get over my fear of people.

As I got further along, I realized that it wasn’t just a tool for my own self empowerment. It was actually an incredibly powerful tool to share stories and help people understand one another. Photography is powerful because very few mediums have the ability to transcend language, culture, religion, and it doesn’t matter who you are or where you come from. People can look at an image and understand our shared humanity and I was really drawn to the power of that and the ability to create this shared understanding of our planet and humanity.

Q: Do you have a favorite story that’s attached to a photo you’ve captured?

A:  One of my most known bodies of work and pictures would be documenting the end of the Northern White Rhinos. I started that story nearly 13 years ago and have followed them along.

Another favorite story is documenting the pandas in China for over a period of three years. I went back multiple times to document that species. I had to dress up in a panda costume every day that was also scented in panda urine because they go by smell, not sight. They were on the edge of extinction and were delisted because the numbers are going up in the wild. The pandas went from being critically endangered to vulnerable. So, it’s kind of this incredible story about how resilient nature is if we give us a chance. I think the story leaves people with a sense of what we all need to do to coexist in this fragile world.

Q: You have recently done a short film called Shaba, which is about the first matriarch elephant in the Reteti Elephant Sanctuary. Could you talk more about the film and what it was like capturing the footage?

A: I spent the last six years documenting the story of a community in northern Kenya, with no political power, no resources, and they did the impossible. They went from this ravaged, land working approach to becoming the elephant’s greatest protectors.

The film is about a group of women, elephant keepers and their relationship to elephants. It reminds us of what we can all achieve if we really put our minds to it. I think that’s the main message of the whole film.

I’m so deeply connected to the community there. I love them. They have taught me so much. 

Q: How did you get involved with National Geographic?

A: They contacted me. It was a long journey of 15 years—really committed.

I was a gypsy working so hard, moving around, telling these stories. And then eventually they started to see my work in different publications so they reached out to me.

I’ve always been finding stories on my own and spending time “living the story” because I just believe that it takes so much time to get to know a community to understand a story in a deep way. 

Q: What can the audience expect for Wednesday night?

A: I think what my talk is going to be about next week is really a journey around the world. They are stories which will surprise you. I titled it “Wild Hope” because I’ve seen some of the most heartbreaking conflicts to the worst depths of humanity.

And the thing that I’m left with is something that I think is often missing from the headlines, which is that we live in this beautiful world and we are so intricately connected to things that seem so far away. And I am left with hope. And I think that we need to hear these stories right now more than ever to remind us of how much we share, how connected we truly are to one another.

I think if you only read the headlines, it’s easy to feel overwhelmed and hopeless and this talk will energize and inspire people –to remind us of the best of what we can all be.

National Geographic Live – Ami Vitale: Wild Hope

Vitale is the first of 3 in the “National Geographic: Live!” Series.

Tickets can be purchased at calpolyarts.org. Cal Poly’s students are eligible for a 20% off discount with proof of ID.

This interview has been edited for length and clarity.

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