Rafael Vilela | CatchLight | Forest Ruins

Photographer, co-founder of Media NINJA, and CatchLight Fellow, Rafael Vilela talks to Michael about some of his amazing visual stories from Brazil. Rafael shares the story behind Invisible Gravediggers, the forgotten workers of the pandemic, and he talks about his current work, Forest Ruins, an ongoing project that addresses the role of cities in the climate crisis from the perspective of the Guarani Mbyá Indigenous people in the city of São Paulo. Forest Ruins is what brought Rafael to the CatchLight Visual Storytelling Summit both as a CatchLight Fellow and recently as a panel speaker along with Anastasia Samoylova at the summit.


Rafael Vilela is an independent Brazilian photographer currently reporting on climate and economic crisis in his country. He was one of the founders of Midia NINJA, an initiative that today has more than 8 million followers. His photographs are part of São Paulo’s Museum of Modern Art (MAM-SP) permanent collection. In 2014 he was invited by Magnum Photos to be one of the Brazilian photographers in the OffSide Brazil project to report on the World Cup. Rafael was also nominated for World Press Photo Joop Swart Masterclass in 2013, 2014 and 2015. He has collaborated on international publications such as The Washington Post, The Guardian, VICE, The Intercept and National Geographic. In 2020 he was selected by National Geographic’s Emergency Fund for Journalists covering Covid-19 and his work with Covid Latam won the POYLatam and the FotoEvidence Book Award with World Press Photo. In 2022 Vilela was awarded the Catchlight Fellowship and the National Geographic Explorer grant.

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April 29, 2023 – https://www.catchlight.io – Minnesota Street Project, San Francisco 

The non-profit media organization CatchLight will hold its 2023 Visual Storytelling Summit on the theme “The Change We Want to See.” Organized with Elizabeth Krist, curator and formerly a longtime photo editor at National Geographic, the event will feature a portfolio review in the morning, followed by presenters and topics spanning artificial intelligence imagery, reporting on environmental issues, reproductive rights, racial justice, and how local journalists are holding power accountable at a time when trust in public institutions is at an all-time low. CatchLight Global and Local Fellows—including Rafael Vilela and Harika Maddala, among others—will discuss their projects along with artists, founders, technologists, and innovative creatives working at the nexus of art, media, journalism, technology, and social impact. 
This year’s theme, “The Change We Want to See,” reflects the unique power of photography, visual journalism, and creative practices to drive social impact. “Images are instrumental to how we understand our world,” says Elodie Mailliet Storm, CEO of CatchLight. “Not only do they connect people emotionally to issues, they also promote deeper understanding, build trust, and spark action. I want the Summit to be a place where the global community of visual storytellers, media, and technology leaders can gather, share ideas, and push the field forward through partnership and innovation.” 

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