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Joel Sartore (USA)

Photo Ark

Habitat destruction, climate change, pollution, poaching, and overconsumption of resources are all coming together now, threatening to eliminate half of all species by the turn of the century.

Why should we care?

Because it’s folly to think that we can lose half of everything else, and still be just fine.

The need to care is the driving force behind Photo Ark, my twenty-five-year project to document animals around the world with studio portraits. By showcasing each new species, I hope to lead the public into thoughts of conservation and get people to care while we still have time to save species now in peril.

Working with clean backgrounds and the same spatial framing eliminates comparisons of size. This levels the playing field: a turtle counts as much as a rhino. We can also look all kinds of animals directly in the eye and recognize that these creatures contain the same beauty, grace, and intelligence. Some perhaps even hold the key to our own salvation.

The plain truth is that when we save species, we’re actually saving ourselves. Individual plants— a vast number are yet to be studied—provide us with chemical agents to use for medicines. Animals teach us new things all the time, about things as varied as communication (dolphins), hibernation (Arctic ground squirrels), and pollution (freshwater mussels).

Beyond all these self-serving reasons, however, is the simple fact that each and every species is a work of art, created over thousands or millions of years.

The bottom line for me is this: At the end of my days, I’d like to be able to look in the mirror and believe that I made a real difference. Long after I am dead, these pictures will work every day to save species endangered by a changing world. There’s no more important mission for me.

How about you?

Joel Sartore


Joel Sartore is a photographer, speaker, author, teacher,conservationist, National Geographic Fellow, and regular contributor to National Geographic magazine.

He specializes in documenting endangered species and landscapes in order to show what we are about to lose in a world that’s worth saving. He is the founder of the Photo Ark, a multi-year documentary project to save species and habitat. In his words, “It is folly to think that we can destroy one species and ecosystem after another and not affect humanity. When we save species, we’re actually saving ourselves.”

Sartore has written or provided photography for several books, including RARE: Portraits of America’s Endangered Species(Washington, D.C.: National Geographic/Focal Point, 2010),Photographing Your Family (Washington, D.C.: National Geographic,2008), and Nebraska: Under a Big Red Sky (Lincoln, Neb.: Bison Books, 2006). His most recent book is Let’s Be Reasonable (Lincoln: University of Nebraska Press, 2011).

In addition to the work he has done for National Geographic, Sartore has contributed to Audubon magazine, TIME, Life, Newsweek, Sports Illustrated, and numerous book projects. He and his work have been the subjects of several national broadcasts, including on National Geographic’s Explorer, the NBC Nightly News, and NPR’s Weekend Edition, as well as in an hour-long PBS documentary, “At Close Range.” He is also a regular contributor on the CBS Sunday Morning Show with Charles Osgood.

Sartore lives in Lincoln, Nebraska.

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