Do you ever look an animal in the eye and see someone you know? National Geographic fellow Joel Sartore develops this deep connection with his photographs of endangered species (see S&H’s story “Wetlands Under Threat” which features his work) and also speaks regularly about his passion for conservation. The sense of humor he brings to his work belies the urgent message he’s trying to impart: “We must pay attention from here on out, or risk some very dire consequences.” We caught up with him on the road and asked him to share more.
S&H: Humor clearly plays a big part of your work. In what ways does it create connection between you, your subjects, and your audience?
JS: I always figured that if you can get folks laughing with you, then they would be more apt to follow you when you have more serious topics to discuss.
Besides, it's more fun to go through life with a sense of humor and a smile rather than a furrowed brow.
S&H: We often say here at S&H that spirituality and nature are intertwined and caring for the environment is as important as taking care of our bodies and minds. How do you see our role in the conservation movement?
JS: At this point in time, what we're going to have in terms of nature is truly going to be up to us. There are so many humans now, on our way to 8 billion, and growing. Yet we must be good stewards if we're to be healthy. We need pollinating insects like bees to produce fruits and vegetables. We need intact forests to help regulate climate. We need healthy seas to provide us with food. The list goes on and on. It's folly to think that we can doom so many other species to extinction but think that humanity will be just fine. We must pay attention from here on out, or risk some very dire consequences.
S&H: I love the portrait format of Photo Ark because the expressive images remind me of people I know. What inspired the project?
JS: This is my last ditch effort to get folks to look animals in the eye, and get people to care, while there's still time to save many of the species. It's as simple as that, but it won't be easy. We must learn to care about something more than the price at the pump and what's on TV. Each of the creatures I photograph is worth saving, but first the public must learn that it exists. That's where these photos come in.