Spotlight Interview … Photojournalist Ami Vitale

After hearing from one photographer (Zoriah) about the impact this lady had on his photography, I felt it was necessary to seek an interview with her.

Ami Vitale is a professional photojournalist. She has traveled the world capturing images across various landscapes. To look at her images is to feel the interaction between her and her subjects.

In addition to shooting Ami shares with us her experience teaching workshops. Thank you Ami for this opportunity.

Ami Vitale: Thank you James. I’m honored that you got in touch.

JRP: Where and when did your journey into photography begin. Do you have any formal training?

Ami Vitale: I do not have formal training but I did take a couple classes in college. My professor Rich Beckman encouraged me to pursue it. After college I became a photo editor for the Associated Press.

After 4 years as an editor I moved to the Czech Republic and got a job at a small paper as a photographer.

Soon after I left the paper and began covering the conflict in Kosovo. It was in my backyard and captured my heart.

JRP: Why photojournalism? What motivated you to pursue that area of photography?

Ami Vitale: In 2000, I had the rare opportunity to live in a remote village in the West African country of Guinea Bissau. The experience set me on a very different path as a photographer from the one I previously had as an editor in New York.

I shared a mud hut and the daily responsibilities with women and their children in a remote village of Fulani’s, once a nomadic group of herders. Together we gathered water, firewood, collected cashews, mangoes, and slowly they introduced me to their intricate and complex society.

It was in this village of Dembel Jumpora, that I discovered a place that is rarely reported in mainstream press. It was not the Africa of war, famines, and plagues nor was it the idealized world of safaris and exotic animals. Instead it was a look into the simplicity and beauty of how the majority of people on this planet live.

There everyday is a struggle but there was much to be learned. I was mesmerized by the magnificence of the people who gave so much to open up my eyes to the beauty, wonder, and sadness of their lives. Through it all, I was reminded of how similar we all are despite the distances between us.

One memory in particular reminds me of this. My last evening in the small village I sat with a group of children beneath a sea of stars talking into the night about my return home.

One of the children, Alio, innocently asked me if we had a moon in America. It seemed so symbolic and touching that he should feel like America was a separate world, and serves as a constant reminder that we are all tied together in an intricate web, whether we believe it or not.

This experience shaped who I am both as a human being and as a journalist. As I work to tell the stories from far away places, it is my intention to highlight our surprising and subtle similarities more than just the obvious differences between all of our cultures.

I made a conscious choice then that I would work as a freelancer and spend time on the stories that rarely make it to the mainstream headlines. I believe in the importance of giving a voice to those who so often go unrecognized and I like to speak about their deeper concerns rather just reports the daily “events”.

Perhaps now, more than ever, the need to get beyond the stereotypes and dramatic images and instead tell the stories in a humanistic way is critical. It is my intention to see
past mere headlines to try to get a truer sense of who we all are.

JRP: You have had an influence on a number of photographers. I became aware of you and your work through an interview I had recently with Zoriah, another young photojournalist. Did you ever think of yourself as a teacher in the beginning?

Ami Vitale: I don’t think of myself as a teacher but I try to help others in the same way that so many people have helped me. We don’t do anything by ourselves in this life. People help one another.

JRP: Looking in your camera bag what would I find?

Ami Vitale: A Nikon D3, Nikkor 17-35mm 80-200mm, Nikon D2xs, Sb800 flash(3). A Diana camera, and a Bronica medium format camera with 75mm lens.

JRP: What type of editing software do you use?

Ami Vitale: I use Apple Aperture and Photoshop.

JRP: What has been your most memorable assignment to date?

Ami Vitale: They have all been memorable because I choose what I work on. I go to the places where there is not a pack of journalists and I try to understand the issues. All the experiences, even though many are very difficult are memorable and have an impact.

JRP: What has your teaching experiences taught you about your photography and yourself?

Ami Vitale: Teaching is just a way to share what you have learned from others. I always find that I learn something while I am teaching because we all have something to share. We all have a unique voice.

JRP: What has been the best advice given to you by another photographer?

Ami Vitale: There are so many things but one important issue is to keep the copyright of my images. The market is changing so quickly, and young photographers think by giving away their images later they will get recognition.

It is so important to maintain the value of what we are doing. Otherwise, only companies will determine what is important to cover. We must keep an independent voice in this industry, and cover issues that are off the beaten path.

JRP: What advice would you offer to a young photographer starting out in photojournalism?

Ami Vitale: To find a project they care about and work on it for years. Show the dedication and passion so that we get beyond mere stereotypes and superficial reporting.

Many young photographers think going to a war zone will make them famous. WRONG! It is selfish and not only puts their own lives in danger but the people they are with. Start in your backyard and learn how to be a good photographer at home before going off to far flung places.

JRP: Ami thanks again for sharing your thoughts and photography with us. It has been an extreme pleasure and inspiration to talk with you.

Ami Vitale: Thank you James.

JRP: To see if Ami Vitale is holding a workshop in your area please check our Community Bulletin Board page.

To view more of Ami Vitale’s photography please go to these links:

Ami Vitale 2010 Spotlight Interview:

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