National Geographic photographers offer advice to students

By Heather Scroering

Columbia welcomed four photojournalists on Oct. 11 in Film Row Cinema at the Conaway Center, 1104 S. Wabash Ave., who shared their career experiences to steer students in the right direction.

Jim Richardson, Ami Vitale and Vince Musi, contributing photographers for National Geographic along with Chicago Tribune photographer Alex Garcia, presented their work and offered their advice to students who are trying to break into the industry.

“The most important thing I’ve learned in all my travels is pretty basic, but we’re really not that different from one another,” Vitale said. “Illuminating our commonalities actually inspires empathy.”

Vitale has worked in more than 75 countries photographing situations from poverty-stricken communities to violent crimes, according to the event’s invitation. Her work has been featured in other publications, such as Adventure, Time and Smithsonian, as well as in galleries and museums.

She has been awarded several times for her work, including the Daniel Pearl Award for Outstanding Reporting.

Vitale also stressed the importance of defining a body of work early in one’s career and committing to it.

Richardson has shot for National Geographic for 10 years but has done documentaries for the past 40 years.

“The only way that you really come to know this subject is to really become engaged,” he said. “Sometimes it’s physically, but it can also be emotionally and personally.”

Musi’s career began 30 years ago, and he currently focuses on animal portraits for National Geographic, according to the event invitation. However, in the past he has shot volcanoes, mummies, hurricanes and sports.

“Who you are is not a lens or a piece of equipment or a degree,” Musi said. “We can buy the same cameras, go to the same countries and do the same stuff, but what you bring to [your work] is the single most important thing.”

The photography event was part of Chicago Ideas Week, a city-wide movement to bring together top speakers from across the globe to share their ideas with Chicago. Events lasted from Oct. 10–16.

Garcia, daily news photographer for the Chicago Tribune and a professor at Northwestern University, offered his best lesson to students.

“Stay as close to the door of opportunity as possible because a lot of times it’s closed, and maybe nowadays it’s staying closed for longer periods of time,” he said. “Stay as close to the area of interest that you have and just keep making sacrifices necessary to do it.”