When Adobe MAX day 1 ended, I didn’t think Day 2 could top it! However, I realized how wrong I was the moment I sat down at Tuesday morning’s keynote. Yesterday’s talks focused on “Challenging the Norms and Breaking the Rules.” Ami Vitale, one of my favorite photojournalists, whose work has been published in National Geographic and news week, does just that.
Ami was awe-inspiring. She opened with a series of photos from her trips to India, the Himalayas, and my personal favorite, Kashmir: a troubled paradise. She has travelled to 85 countries in her lifetime, and has documented most of them behind the camera. At yesterday’s keynote she spoke about her experiences as a traveling photographer and how the pain and suffering that she went through created empathy. She explained that empathy was the “wellspring of creativity.” As a documentary artist myself, I had much to take away from Ami’s message. I have always found that the most powerful stories are the ones that make those around me uncomfortable, as my film International Boulevard did. However, Ami reminded me that although displaying pain was powerful, the most powerful stories are the ones that can unite us: The simple everyday stories of happiness, love, strength, and perseverance.
Ami completely change my perspective of what it means to be a human on this earth. Some days I wake up thinking that the work that I do is useless, powerless, and that I will never be able to end the buying and selling of young people in my community. Today, Ami reminded me that those low moments are the most motivating of times. During those instances I must stop to capture the beauty around me, and then, after I take a breath, go on with my work.
To Ami: thank you for the wonderful work that you do every day. You are an inspiration to young women who want to make, create, and encompass change.
Rebecca Dharmapalan won 2nd place in the Documentary category for the 2014 AYV Awards for International Boulevard, a video that raises awareness about sex trafficking in Oakland. She has received widespread attention, including taking the top prize at the Girls Impact the World Festival 2013, speaking at Harvard, Girls Inc., and Oakland city council meetings. Rebecca is also Chair of the Oakland Youth Commission and is helping to create the first task force for the prevention of CSEC (Commercial Sexual Exploitation of Children). Through this organization, Rebecca has been able to develop a campaign against human trafficking including 65 billboards around Oakland and the Bay Area to raise awareness. She is now a freshman at UC Berkeley.