Nat Geo photojournalist speaks to island crowd

March 31, 2017
By Marcy Shortuse

■ BY SUE ERWIN.    
National Geographic photojournalist Ami Vitale spoke about her fascinating career covering the mayhem of combat in Kosovo at the Boca Grande Community Center auditorium on Wednesday, March 29.
Vitale lived in mud huts with the locals and experienced first-hand what their way of life was like.
She started her career as an Associated Press Editor in New York.
“Editing international stories was fascinating, but one day I realized I had to pursue my dream of becoming a foreign correspondent,” Vitale said. “As a teenager, the second I picked up a camera I knew that’s what I wanted to do. It was a passport for me into a whole new world,” Vitale said.
So she packed her bags and took a photographer position in Prague and never looked back. She later received an assignment covering the turmoil in Afghanistan.
“Overnight I went from an amateur photographer to a war correspondent,” she said.
As a photojournalist, she was instructed to get up close to capture the action. She remembers the day the batteries dropped out from camera, and when she bent down to pick them up, a missile ripped by her and exploded into the building across the street. She quickly grabbed her second camera and took photos of the chaos, a few of which she showed during the presentation.
“My career has brought me face-to-face with violence as well as the enduring power of the human spirit. Photographers always try to get the most captivating images, but at best, we are only telling half the story,” she said.
Living in Africa for six months literally changed her life. She did a story for Nat Geo on the extinction of the white Rhino. There are only three left in the world and armed men guard them constantly to keep poachers away. She packed only clothing, her camera and a bag of rice. She ended up sharing the rice with poor local people and even contracted malaria while she was there. But she will be returning to the continent in two weeks to work on another Nat Geo assignment on baby elephants being separated from their tribe.
Vitale has been a photojournalist, filmmaker and photographer for National Geographic for years. Recently, she has covered groundbreaking efforts to reintroduce endangered animals to the wild to halt the threat of extinction. Her work with Nat Geo includes stories based in China, Kenya’s and India.
She said her favorite part of the job is meeting the people that represent these nations.
“Everything looks so different from our world, but what surprised me is how much we actually have in common.”
Her goal was to share the average person’s story, especially the women who live in war torn areas.
“They women I met were so incredibly resilient and they had an amazing sense of humor. Photography can be so powerful – it literally gives a voice to the voiceless,” she said.
Vitale is a World Press Photo Award winner and has a Master’s degree from the University of Miami.
“Great photography is about telling a great story.”
The Friends of the Boca Grande Community Center sponsored the program.