Just as some things are worth remembering and bear being reminded of, some things are worth repeating. It was Fathers Day, and the CBS newsmagazine 60 Minutes reprised a segment from last fall about National Geographic photographer Joel Sartore — or, more accurately, Sartore’s Photo Ark project.
Sartore sides with those scientists who believe that half the animal species today may well be extinct by the end of this century.
To that end, he’s trying to photograph every species — every animal, bird, fish, reptile, and insect, in captivity.
“On this ark,” Whitaker said, in introducing his 60 Minutes segment, “the animals go in one by one.”
As Sartore explained to Whitaker, photographing species in the wild would be too time-consuming and labour intensive — and, more to the point, many species, more than you’d think, survive solely in captivity. It is one of the main selling points of zoos’ continuation, and one of the arguments you hear least often. The irony, of course, is that as zoos fall out of favour with modern thinking, from a practical, survival-of-the-species point of view, now may be the most practical time to keep them going.
Sartore’s work may not be wild, taken in the wilderness, but it just might be the literal definition of conservation photography. Sartore wants to photograph each one of 12,000 species before some vanish forever. He is 55, and estimates he is halfway through his project.
Mortality is on his mind in more ways than one. His wife Kathy contracted breast cancer a number of years ago, forcing him to reconsider his outlook
on life, and the imprint he’d leave behind.
“It really does make you appreciate how limited time is.”
His wife has since recovered; their grown daughter Ellen now follows Sartore to zoos around the world, putting in time as his assistant.
Sartore is captive to photographing animals under captive conditions for another, practical reason: He’s focusing on solo portraits, taken against a plain white or black backdrop — the better, he says, to bring out each animals unique expression and inner soul.
What makes a great picture?
“Emotion,” Sartore said. “That’s what you look for in any great photograph.”
Sartore spends half the year travelling the world, often putting in 12-hour days in stifling, humid 100-degree heat — 38 degrees in English money — as he did that day photographing a Palawan stink badger at a zoo in the Philippines.
“There’s nobody else coming along to photograph a stink badger,” Sartore explained on 60 Minutes. “I’m the only one. And that’s the case for 90 percent of the species I photograph, maybe 95 percent. These are things that nobody else will ever know existed if it weren’t for the Photo Ark. If they could see how beautiful this thing is, they would care.”
Time’s running out.
“It is,” Sartore told 60 Minutes. “But you know, at least my life’ll be spent doing something that’s hopefully mattered to the world.”