On Tuesday evening I attended a National Geographic Live lecture about India by photographer, Ami Vitale. Ever since my roommate in college traveled to India and returned with breathtaking photos, textiles and stories, I have had the dream of going there myself one day. Ami spoke of how Westerners tend to romanticize India and I certainly fall into that category of someone who has enchanted views of the country from afar. Certainly any coverage of the conflicts in Kashmir offer a reality check of the tensions and poverty that plague parts of the country, but I remain fascinated by the mystical, artistic and visually rich elements of the culture.

Ami's upbeat persona and soothing voice were captivating as were her words about her profession and the country in which she lived for five years. Some pearls from her lecture:

* The human condition is essentially the same everywhere.
* Even in the darkest places, there is still something beautiful.
* There is often so much joy in the most impoverished areas (I definitely found this to be true during my travels in Africa).
* It's not about making beautiful photos. The pictures are about these people. It's about telling their stories.

Ami dispelled the perception that her raw and intimate photos result from moments of forcing her camera into situations. Instead, her work is the outcome of forging relationships and earning the trust of the people she captures on film. Staying in India for so long allowed her to richly document a story as opposed to sparsely covering a topic. Her photography advice is an extension of this work flow practice -to find a subject and strive to show something below the surface.

Ami also discussed the importance of professional integrity - respecting cultural customs and remembering that you leave behind a footprint every time you enter a story. Based on the way you behave, you can build a path for others to travel after you. I think this idea of footprint is very powerful and can be applied to so many facets of our lives.

Check out Ami's website and the very educational PBS Frontline/World presentation, Kashmir: A Troubled Paradise.