Photography that can save the world

As we think more about the health of the planet, Ami Vitale tells how photographers can help us connect with the natural world.

In the wake of Cop26, we feature the photographer Ami Vitale, talking about Vital Impacts, an initiative that supports organisations who are protecting people, wildlife and habitats, celebrating the role of storytellers and the role they play in improving the health of the planet. Over to Ami:

(Scroll through using the arrows to see stunning pictures that celebrate the world we live in — the world we want to preserve. Click on each to see it in large format.)

I began my career covering conflicts and found myself in places like Kosovo, Angola, Gaza, Afghanistan and later Kashmir. While the importance of shining a light on human conflict shouldn’t be minimised, focusing only on this turned my world into a horror show. Those years in war zones led me to an epiphany. The stories about people and the human condition are always connected to nature. If you dig deep enough behind virtually every human conflict, there has been an erosion of the fundamental bond between the humans involved and the health of the natural world around them. Our fates are linked. Losing one part of nature is a loss for all of us.

Human activity has placed 1 million plant and animal species in immediate danger of extinction, causing what scientists have identified as the sixth major extinction event on this planet. This extinction event is different— not only is it driven by humans but it is happening at an incredibly fast and accelerating rate. Removal of a keystone species has a huge effect in the ecosystem and impacts all of us. These giants are part of a complex world created over millions of years, and their survival is intertwined with our own survival. Without wildlife we suffer more than just the loss of ecosystem health. We suffer a loss of imagination, a loss of wonder, a loss of beautiful possibilities.

What we need to give to the planet

What happens next is in all of our hands. Nature is resilient if we give it a chance,  if we give it our time. We all have the capacity to get engaged and use our voices to make a difference. Each of us will be a much more powerful voice when speaking to the people in our lives. I believe we must first fall in love with the world around us. Love gives us the courage to make a difference.
But I know it’s not just about loving this planet. In fact, that’s not going to save us. What’s going to save us is believing in the wonder of this world. Wonder allows us to get beyond routine ways of thinking and to reimagine our future together. Wonder shows us how deeply connected we are to one another and that our choices are profound in their impact. We all want to be on the right side of history and that can only happen when we realize that history is our story and our story is the story of every living thing on this planet. We must not fall into the trap of thinking that this issue is too big to deal with or that someone else will take care of it. It is up to you. It is up to me. It is up to us.

How photography can change the world

Photography has the unique ability to transcend all languages and help us understand our deep connections to one another and to all of life on this planet. It is the ultimate tool for creating empathy, awareness and understanding across cultures; a tool for making sense of our commonalities in the world we share. The genesis of this initiative is to use photography and powerful storytelling images to support organizations working to protect endangered habitats and amplify these critical stories. This is a moment to reimagine our relationship to nature and to each other. We all need to do all we can to care for the plants and critters that inhabit the earth. They are fellow travelers  in this universe. Our future happiness depends on them.

Photographers devoted to the environment

The photographs from all the artists in this initiative are diverse but the one thing they all have in common is a shared commitment to the environment. Dr. Jane Goodall DBE, the world’s foremost expert on chimpanzees, has also contributed prints, including a self portrait, as well as two other images showing the remarkable lives of chimpanzees that she has been working to protect for over 60 years.

Our other contributors are drawn from the covers of National Geographic and the world’s most prestigious fine art galleries. Just a few of the exceptional photographers are James Balog, Daniel Beltra, Nick Brandt, Chris Burkard, Jimmy Chin, Tamara Dean, David Doubilet, Beverly Joubert, Keith Ladzinski, Cristina Mittermeier, Jim Naughten, Paul Nicklen, Maggie Steber, Joel Sartore, Tim Flach, Carolyn Guzy, Matthieu Paley, Xavi Bou, Beth Moon, Ami Vitale, Stephen Wilkes, Reuben Wu who are among the hundred photographers we have curated for this.

The initiative is called Vital Impacts and its mission is to support organisations working to protect endangered habitats and the storytellers who amplify these critical stories. We will offer fine art prints and will be supporting Big Life Foundation, Jane Goodall Institute’s Roots and Shoots programme, Great Plains Conservation’s Project Ranger and SeaLegacy.

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