Elephant Whisperer. Wildlife Advocate. Badass Woman.
Nikon Ambassador and National Geographic Magazine photographer and filmmaker Ami Vitale has traveled to more than 100 countries, bearing witness 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.” After taking on a one-year environmental assignment to help her recover from the burnout associated with conflict coverage, she had an epiphany, realizing that you can’t protect the environment without understanding the human side of the story and enrolling the local community in the solutions. As a result, she walked away from covering war to documenting the revolutionary ways humans are learning to protect endangered species, and to coexist alongside wildlife. In 2018, Ami beared witness to the painful first step we took closer to extinction of the Northern White Rhino when she covered the passing of Sudan, the last male of the species, at the Ol Pejeta Conservancy, in Kenya. Ami says, “In the beginning, photography was my passport to meeting people, learning, and experiencing new cultures. I’ve reinterpreted it as a tool for creating awareness and understanding across cultures, communities, and countries; a tool to make sense of our commonalities.”
Instyle Magazine named Ami one of fifty Badass Women, celebrating “women who show up, speak up and get things done.” She shared this honor with an esteemed group of giants, 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. She is a six-time recipient of World Press Photo awards, and published the best-selling book, Panda Love, on the secret lives of pandas. When not traveling the world, Ami makes her home on the edge of wilderness, in Montana’s big sky country.
Empathy Leads to Impact
Ami believes that we become our stories: those we take in, those we tell ourselves, and those we choose to share with others. In order to gain mastery of yourself and maximize your impact on the world, you need to do some homework. That work begins with resisting an external view of the world and getting real with yourself to find places where you’re vulnerable so that you can move through, not around them. She also believes we need to focus on what unites—rather than what divides—us. This inspiring talk shares real world lessons from traveling the world as an eyewitness and pushing past fear and discomfort to find commonality. Ami also explores the sometimes opposed concepts of excelling and being of service to others, and shares the secret ingredient that enables both.
Photos: courtesy Ami Vitale
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