“It was a match made in heaven,” says seasoned photojournalist Ami Vitale of her recent partnership with coffee company Lavazza for its annual calendar. She photographed six pieces of artwork in outdoor spaces in various parts of the world for the project.
What she loved about it: The project struck a chord with Vitale because of its uplifting theme: highlighting communities that have connected with their natural environment in a positive way. In 2009, after years photographing human conflict and war, Vitale shifted her focus to nature and wildlife photography with an inspiring bent. “I realized that in the same way I was asked to cover wars and conflicts and to sensationalize these conflicts, we were doing the same thing when it came to stories about our planet,” she says. “We were just scaring people, not really giving any solutions or shining a light on things that were working, where people are able to live in harmony with the world around them. So I have been on this mission for really almost a decade trying to find these hopeful stories.”
Project parameters: Lavazza commissioned six artists to create original works in select natural environments on four different continents—all in one month’s time. The art was intended to speak to each community’s relationship with its natural surroundings. Vitale’s job was to photograph the art and the locale. “It’s not just about the picture and it’s not just about the art,” she says. It’s a collaboration that tells a story about an environment and its people.
The challenges: Vitale had limited time in each community, so she had to work quickly to create storytelling photographs. For example, in the Moroccan desert, the artist raked pebbles into the shape of a hand holding water as a nod to the adjacent greenbelt, which survives on recycled waste water pumped in via solar power. The artwork couldn’t be enjoyed from ground level, so Vitale used a drone to make about 50 frames of the work from above, then stitched them together in post-production for a final image that gives the full context: the artwork, the desert, and the greenbelt.
The benefit of collaboration: By layering the artists’ interpretations with Vitale’s storytelling plus scientific data, the calendar highlights the need for a holistic approach to solving environmental issues, says Vitale. “Whether you’re an artist, a storyteller, a photographer, or a scientist—whoever you are—it’s a little reminder that all of us need to get engaged.”
Amanda Arnold is associate editor of Professional Photographer.
Tags: documentary photography