Photographing Hope: Ami Vitale’s Search for Truth

By Terri Stone

You might expect a former war photographer to be pessimistic about humanity. With National Geographic magazine photojournalist Ami Vitale, the opposite is true. “I meet extraordinary people,” she says. “They’re not in the newspapers, but they’re just as important—even more important. I see change happening and I see people hopeful about the future.” Vitale is now sharing these experiences in a series of live talks called “Rhinos, Rickshaws & Revolutions: My Search for Truth.”

Vitale has broadened her scope beyond documenting conflict; most recently, she’s been recording efforts to save imperiled species. Her talk will feature panda photos that will melt your heart, and even the rhinos show their softer side. 

“You only hear the worst environmental news out of China,” Vitale says. “I don't want to sound Pollyanna-ish, and I don't want you to get the impression I think everything is fine, but they’re performing a minor miracle right now. They are releasing captive-born pandas back into the wild and saving a species that’s on the verge of extinction. Since 1998, China has started a massive nationwide reforestation program. It is now one of the few countries in the world where forest cover is expanding. This habitat helps a whole host of species, not just pandas.”

“While it’s true that there is a real problem with rhinos and poaching in Africa,” she continues, “I’m also finding inspiring stories where conservation is working. In northern Kenya, local communities are protecting these animals and these critically endangered species numbers are going up.”

“I see it every day: humble people who are not in the headlines and are out there doing incredible work and fighting off poachers to protect these animals,” says Vitale. “We never hear about them, but their courage and hope would make you weep if you met them. We can often forget that the best protectors of these animals are the people who live alongside them.”

“Times are crazy right now. People are afraid, rightly so. The world looks like a dark, scary place if you only read the headlines. I’ve been to more than 90 countries, and I have experienced a very different version of what I see in the newspapers.  In a world dominated by tweets, soundbites, and Vines, we need to remember to see the whole story.”

Vitale hopes people will overcome the depression that comes with a steady diet of headlines. “The world is still such an inspiring place. I want to turn the lens and give a wider perspective of what the world really looks like. We need to celebrate the goodness now more than ever.”

She will present the "Rhinos, Rickshaws & Revolutions: My Search for Truth" talk in several locations in the following months. If Vitale isn't currently scheduled to visit your town, check back later; she’ll add dates and locations as her shooting schedule permits.

For more on Vitale, watch the Create documentary “It’s About the Stories.” 

December 7, 2015

Images: Ami Vitale