Saving the giant panda population through photography

(CNN)Ami Vitale has got President Obama beat.

In China, where the photographer was documenting panda activity, her work was so well received that Wolong National Nature Reserve program director Zhang Hemin allowed her to hold two baby pandas. (The leader of the free world only got to hold one.)
But this was not Vitale’s first passion. She was originally a conflict photographer covering violent war zones around the world.
    Nature photography came calling after Vitale decided to take a six-month break: “I was covering these conflicts for quite a long time, and I was burned out and had post-traumatic stress disorder. I told myself I was going to take six months off — I needed that to just heal.”
    An environmental charity called The Nature Conservancy offered her the chance to “see all the beauty and the magic that exists everywhere,” as she describes it. Vitale abandoned her six-month break and seized the opportunity.
    What followed included a lengthy series called “Kenya’s Last Rhinos” about rangers caring for the handful of remaining white rhinos in the world.
    “I’ve been on this mission to go and tell these stories about people risking their lives,” Vitale explains. “(The rangers) are taking care of these animals all day long, fighting off lions, fighting poachers, and (the rhinos are) like their own children.”
    Unfortunately, despite the efforts of rangers and Vitale’s documentation of their efforts, she says the white rhino is “functionally extinct.” However, on the other side of the world, Vitale has been able to share a success story: it was recently announced that the giant panda is no longer an endangered species.

    “A minor miracle”

    Pandas Gone Wild” depicts what Vitale calls “a minor miracle”: a program at the Wolong National Nature Reserve releasing captive born pandas back into the wild.
    “It turns out that after one generation in captivity, pandas forget how to live in the wild, and you have to train them,” she explains.

    Photo by @amivitale on assignment for @natgeo. Wolong Reserve keepers transport Hua Jiao (Delicate Beauty) for a health check before she finishes “wild training.” The habitat also protects red pandas, pheasant, tufted deer, and other species that benefit from giant panda conservation. Read the @natgeo story in the August issue and online through the link in my profile. @natgeo @natgeocreative @thephotosociety @nikonusa @instagram #nikonusa #nikonlove #nikonnofilter #nikonambassador #nikond4s #wolong #sichuan #china #climatechange #conservation #natureisspeaking #savetheplanet #photooftheday #photojournalism #panda #pandas #babypanda #ipanda #giantpanda #pandacub #amivitale

    A photo posted by Ami Vitale (@amivitale) on

    Embedded with the program, Vitale had to work incognito, wearing a panda suit laced with their scent, so as not to unsettle the bears.
    Vitale finds plenty of common ground between the animals and their human carers.
    “I think all of us, every creature, is a big mystery,” the photographer says.
    She suggests the key is to give the subject enough time to reveal themselves. Vitale should know, having been an “incredibly shy, introverted and gawky” child before picking up a camera.
    “The first time I held a camera it became this incredible tool for me to go out and engage with the world,” she remembers. “Suddenly I realized that I didn’t have to be afraid of people. And so photography became my passport to really go out and feel empowered.”
    More of Vitale’s work on pandas is available in the August, 2016 issue of National Geographic Magazine and at this link:

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    Original Observer photography: October 2016

    Original Observer photography: October 2016

    Reportage from Hillary Clintons presidential campaign; the dispossessed of Johannesburg; and stars of stage and screen all feature in this showcase of the best photography commissioned by the Observer this month

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    15+ Perfectly Timed Street Photography Shots That Show Timing Is Everything

    15+ Perfectly Timed Street Photography Shots That Show Timing Is Everything

    Capturing the perfect photograph is all about being in the right place at the right time. Things can happen in the blink of an eye without ever being repeated, and it takes a special kind of photographer to know where to point the camera in that split second before the moment disappears forever.

    Take a look at this list compiled by Bored Panda for some awesome examples of perfectly timed street photography. Don’t forget to vote for your favorite!

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    Seeing is believing: documentary photography from Francis Bacon to 9/11

    Seeing is believing: documentary photography from Francis Bacon to 9/11

    A human crib sheet, Bacons model wrestlers, and crime scenes real and imagined a new show at the Michael Hoppen gallery examines documentary photography in all its complexity

    There is a quiet power to Simon Norfolks black-and-white study of what looks like an ordinary staircase in a nondescript house. What strikes you first in this photograph which features in a new exhibition called ? The Image as Question is how the light plays on each polished surface: the gleaming handrail and pristine skirting board, the gloss-painted wall. It is then you notice that the surface of each stair is not straight but gently curving, worn by the footsteps of those who have walked down them over the years.

    The French thinker Roland Barthes identified what he called the punctum: the crucial, often accidental, detail of a photograph that reveals something deeper. The curve of the worn stairs is not an accidental detail in Norfolks photograph, but the crucial element in the composition that, as Barthes put it, rises from the scene with a force that makes it suddenly seem like a new photograph. Those who walked down these stairs, leaving the imprint of their vast numbers, were heading towards their deaths in the gas chambers at Auschwitz. It is a photograph that evokes horror in the most subtle and affecting way.

    September 11th, New York, NY 2001 by Melanie Einzig. Photograph: Melanie Einzig. Courtesy Michael Hoppen Gallery

    Part of the fascination with all photography is that the medium is firmly grounded in the documentary tradition, Michael Hoppen notes in his introduction to the show. It has been used as a record of crime scenes, zoological specimens, lunar and space exploration, phrenology, fashion and importantly, art and science. It has been used as proof of simple things such as family holidays and equally of atrocities taking place on the global stage. Any contemporary artist using photography has to accept the evidential language embedded in the medium.

    That last sentence perhaps provides the subtext to the exhibition, which concerns the threatened position of documentary photography in an age of digital profligacy. Photographs are now so ubiquitous and, when shared on social media, often so unmoored from their context as to seem drained of meaning. The images here, Hoppen insists, have a shared gravitas, a weightiness that emanates from their documentary function.

    That is certainly true of Norfolks image of the stairs at Auschwitz, but its power also comes from its formal and compositional poetry: the fall of the light, the geometry of curves, horizontals and verticals, the perspective that, as Norfolk has noted, echoes that of an earlier image: Sea of Steps, a staircase in Wells Cathedral made to appear almost celestial by Frederick Evans in 1903. It is not so much a photograph as evidence, then, rather an evocation of the immeasurable human suffering that took place on this ordinary-looking site.

    The exhibition roams far and wide, from photography as research material for painters to images made by microscopic and telescopic cameras to the inevitable grisly crime scene shots by accomplished ambulance chasers such as Arthur Weegee Fellig and his Mexican counterpart, Enrique Metinides. It is an intriguing show enlivened by the fact that the stories behind the photographs which all come from Hoppens extensive personal collection are often as interesting as the images themselves.

    Enlarged contact sheet of two men wrestling, New York, from the studio of Francis Bacon, circa 1975. Photograph: Michael Hoppen Gallery

    A relatively understated, but characteristically voyeuristic, photograph by Metinides taken in Mexico City in 1958 shows a blood-splattered cluster of personal items love letters and a golden purse. The caption reads: After being stood up at the altar, a bride returns to the church in the Condesa neighbourhood and shoots herself in the head. Here, evidence rubs up against a noir aesthetic learned from classic Hollywood B-movies.

    In sharp contrast, Melanie Einzigs September 11th, New York, NY 2001 is an arresting image of how daily life goes on even amid the most cataclysmic events. It shows a UPS deliveryman going about his business in Manhattan on 9/11 while the twin towers of the World Trade Centre burn in the background.

    An enlarged contact sheet of two men wrestling in swimming trunks and caps, originally taken by Francis Bacon in New York in 1975, nestled for years in a bin bag in the attic of a Mr Robertson from Surrey, who turned out to be the artists electrician. (Other bin bags given to him for safekeeping included personal diaries, cashed cheques, letters and holidays snaps.) The photographs highlighted in red were used by Bacon as models for painting particular body parts in motion. They echo another exhibit, a 17-frame series of a nude man walking by Etienne Jules-Marey, whose motion studies preceded those of the better-known Eadweard Muybridge.

    Likewise, a recent image by Takashi Arai composed of multiple daguerreotypes of a stopped wristwatch employs a printing process first used in 1839, but also refers to Shomei Tomatus monochrome photograph of a watch face fractured in the instant the atomic bomb devastated Nagasaki. It seems to me the most postmodern moment here.

    A young woman with cheat notes on her thighs, in a photograph titled Cribs, taken at the faculty of journalism of Moscow State University, 1984. Photograph: Valery Khristoforov/Michael Hoppen Gallery

    Guy Bourdins crime scene photograph possesses all the forensic power of the real thing bloodstains on the pavement, a chalk outline of a female victim beneath unforgiving street lights but is a fabrication constructed for a 70s fashion advertising shoot for Charles Jourdan shoes. A more subtle subversion of a fashion editorial is Richard Avedons 10-page picture story Mike Nichols Suzy Parker Rock Europe, published in Harpers Bazaar in September 1962, in collaboration with the magazines visionary art director, Marvin Israel. Here, using clothes from that seasons fashion collections, they created a fictional famous couple in a grainy narrative comprised of paparazzi-style photographs. The images are a pastiche of the snatched photographs of the romance between Elizabeth Taylor and Richard Burton, which then mesmerised the press and the public. So convincing was it that many readers mistook it for actual reportage.

    The most mischievous single image here is Valerie Khristoforovs portrait of an anonymous young girl on a street with her dress raised to reveal a condensed scrawl of notes that had been written on her thighs before she took the entrance exam to a journalism course in Moscow State University. Khristoforov happened upon the girl in a park as she was writing on her legs seated under trees near the statue of Mikhail Lomonosov, the greatest Russian scientist, who gave the name to the University. She agreed to have her legs photographed under two conditions: that he take the picture after the examination and that she remain anonymous. He agreed and waited for an hour and a half for her to return. She passed the exam and was never found out.

    ? The Image as Question is at the Michael Hoppen Gallery, London, until 26 November.

    This article was amended on 28 September 2016 to correct the spelling of Etienne Jules-Mareys name, from Jules-Marley as an earlier version said.

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