By Ami Vitale
Florida , USA , November 2009
In 2000, I had the rare opportunity to live in a remote village in the West African country of Guinea Bissau. The experience set me on a very different path as a photographer from the one I previously had as an editor in New York. I shared a mud hut and the daily responsibilities with women and their children in a remote village of Fulani’s, once a nomadic group of herders. Together we gathered water and firewood, collected cashews and mangoes and slowly they introduced me to their intricate and complex society.
It was in this village of Dembel Jumpora, that I discovered a place that is rarely reported in mainstream press. It was not the Africa of war and famines and plagues, nor was it the idealized world of safaris and exotic animals. Instead it was a look into the simplicity and beauty of how the majority of people on this planet live. There, every day is a struggle but there was much to be learned. I was mesmerized by the magnificence of the people who gave so much to open up my eyes to the beauty, wonder and sadness of their lives. Through it all, I was reminded of how similar we all are despite the distances between us. One memory in particular reminds me of this– My last evening in
the small village I sat with a group of children beneath a sea of stars talking into the night about my return home. One of the children, Alio, innocently asked me if we had a moon in America. It seemed so symbolic and touching that he should feel like America was a separate world, and serves as a constant reminder that we are all tied together in an intricate web, whether we believe it or not.
This experience shaped who I am both as a human being and as a journalist. As I work to tell the stories from far away places, it is my intention to highlight our surprising and subtle similarities more than just the obvious differences between all of our cultures.
When I heard about the Photojournale project, it inspired me deeply. Rather than send a photographer from another country, history and culture, Photojournale has collected work from residents of each country. These images give us a glimpse into lives we might not otherwise see and emphasize not how different we are but rather our similarities. The intentions seem to be to get past mere headlines to try to get a truer sense of who we all are. Perhaps now, more than ever, the need to get beyond the stereotypes and dramatic images and instead allow people to tell their own stories in a humanistic way.