Photographer Joel Sartore is on a quest to photograph as many species as he can to increase awareness of the many animals in danger of extinction. A long-time National Geographic contributor, he began the Photo Ark project in 2006 to document all of the world’s 6,000 captive species, and has documented over 4,000 species so far.
In collaboration with Houston Zoo, Asia Society Texas Center will present Sartore in a special multimedia "Conservation Forum" this Sunday, February 8. Ahead of that event, Asia Blog caught up with the photographer via email to discuss his ambitious project.
You've focused much of your career on conservation photography. What has been unique about your experiences in Asia, or with animals from Asia? What have you found to be unique challenges for conservation in the region?
The main thing that I’ve seen is how crowded it is there, and this translates to a much more challenging situation when it comes to saving species in the long term. Animals need good habitat, and plenty of it. This is a tough thing in many parts of Asia now that are really filling up with people, or at a minimum feeling the pinch of human consumption in terms of deforestation, overfishing, etc.
What was the initial inspiration for your Photo Ark project? What are a few moments from the project — particularly while working with the animals — that you’ve found especially amusing or poignant?
My wife became very ill with breast cancer and the treatment for it was a year of chemotherapy. Because we had three young children at the time, I was "grounded" for the first time in my career and had to stay home to tend to them. My wife is fine now, but in the course of that year, I had plenty of time to think about what I should do with the rest of my life to really make a difference. Hence the Photo Ark was born, primarily out of a need to do more.
My desire is for people around the world to learn about the amazing species we share the planet with, and be moved to save species, while there’s still time.
How has your storytelling evolved amid the rise of the Internet and social media?
We can get our message out directly to our audiences. It’s a challenge in this era of everyone shouting all at once online, but we never give up. We also count on the followers of The Photo Ark to help us spread the word.
Are there individuals or organizations whose conservation work in Asia you particularly admire?