It’s probably safe to say that not since Noah has one person attempted a collection so vast. And while Noah’s job was to save animals so they could reproduce after the flood, Sartore’s aim is to record animals before they disappear. He’ll probably run out of time for many of them. It’s taken 10 years so far to photograph about 6,500 of the estimated 12,000 species he wants to record. He keeps a tally at joelsartore.com/photo-ark. Sartore estimates it will take him 15 more years to finish. The first batch appears in “The Photo Ark,” and its assortment of creatures is fascinating. From ugly bugs and serene snakes to nervous birds and primates who honestly look pensive, the photo album of fauna will change the way you think of turning a field or forest into the next mall or housing development.
“It’s supposed to overwhelm people with what life looks like on Earth,” he said in an interview on “CBS Sunday Morning.” The book does that.
Sartore photographs in zoos and in the wild but with portable studio equipment, which, he writes, helps create unexpected reactions from his subjects. The animals’ senses are piqued in the unfamiliar surroundings, notably in the case of two jaguars caught smelling the white paper backdrop.
These aren’t scientific photos that are unemotional and detached. When Sartore looks at animals with curiosity, he finds details in them that remind us of, well, us. For the mammals, birds, lizards and more than a few fish, being photographed leads to inquisitive expressions — if we can use that word with creatures we humans assume are just, you know, animals.
If you do think the life forms that vastly outnumber we humans are just animals, look into the eyes of Sartore’s subjects. A jaguarundi cub looks lost in thought. A northern tamandua appears to be hailing a cab. The expressions on a pair of Gee’s golden langurs will remind you of a professor who just realized you didn’t do the reading.
Animals that have rebounded from the brink of extinction populate the final chapter of the book, living proof that endangered species can grow back to healthy populations. Yet even human intervention won’t save every species. That’s the way nature works: adapt or die
Stephen Wolgast is an instructor at the A.Q. Miller School of Journalism and Mass Communications at Kansas State University. You can write him at [email protected]