Hear Joel Sartore and Photo Ark tonight at Harbison Theater


I’ve had the opportunity to work with a lot of talented people over the course of my career, and no one fits that description better than Joel Sartore.


Joel Sartore

Joel was a photographer at The Wichita Eagle-Beacon back when I was news editor there, and I knew he was something special then. Part of my job involved deciding what went on the front page, and I had the privilege of using his work a lot. The times I spent with him at the light table peering at negatives through magnifying glasses and discussing them persuaded me that here was an all-around fine journalist, far more than just another shooter.

And he had an incredible eye for exactly the right shot. I’ll post a couple of prints he gave me back in the day when I’m at home. Amazing stuff.

Well, he’s not in Kansas anymore. Not long after my stint in Wichita, Joel started working for National Geographic, and he’s been with them ever since.

Lately, he’s been working on a monumental project called the Photo Ark, which The State described thusly in their story about his appearance in our community tonight:

National Geographic photographer Joel Sartore is trying to save the planet with his camera….

The project is called Photo Ark, and his goal is to take studio photographs of the roughly 12,000 species in captivity.

“My job, my passion, or what I’m trying to explore and share is the fact that we are throwing away the ark,” Sartore said, adding that he wants “to document as many of the world’s captive species as I can before I die.”

In the past 11 years, he has photographed about 6,500 of these animals. He estimates it will take another 15 years or so to photograph the rest….

So, you know, a herculean task. But Joel’s up to it, I assure you.

He’ll be talking about his work tonight at 7:30 at Harbison Theatre at Midlands Technical College.

I hope to see you there…


4 thoughts on “Hear Joel Sartore and Photo Ark tonight at Harbison Theater

  1. Bryan Caskey

    Looks like an interesting presentation, but alas, I am bespoke. Wish I could make it. Lately, it feels like I’m living the last verse of “Cat’s in the Cradle”.

    1. Brad Warthen Post author

      I HATE that song. I might hate it more than any other song I’ve ever heard. It’s too painful on the most personal level. Nothing in the universe is more important than my kids, and grandchildren. But what did I do when my kids were young? I poured my time and energy into my career (a career that, by the way, ended in an instant, leaving nothing to show) — telling myself, of course, that it was FOR my family. And yeah, to some extent it was, but some of it was what Walter White finally admitted — ego. Things needed to be done MY way, and I stayed at work long hours to make sure they were. It was SO important for me to be on deck attending to duty, right up until the moment that it didn’t matter at all.

      And I’ll never forgive myself for it. And I don’t need that stupid song rubbing salt into the wound.

  2. Brad Warthen Post author

    Joel’s lecture was wonderful. What he’s doing is so important, and he does such a tremendous job of explaining WHY it’s important, and why we should all care about what’s happening to the planet and all the living creatures that live on it.

    And speaking of a man’s responsibility to his family, it ties into what Joel’s doing, and another reason why I admire him so much, and am so pleased to know him.

    Joel wove into his lecture — which consisted of him talking while images and video flashed on the big screen behind him — a lot of stuff about his family, helping us get to know them with gentle, fond humor (you should see some of his family Christmas-card photos) even as he addressed all the usual questions about what the adventurous life of a National Geographic photographer is like.

    And then he got to the part where his wife got cancer (something I can definitely identify with). And his globetrotting came to a halt. And there he was in Nebraska caring for her, a guy who had been gone so much he had never changed his youngest son’s diaper — a man asking himself hard questions about what sort of father he was.

    And during that hiatus from his usual routine (which for most of us was the opposite of routine), he started focusing more on questions about what really matters. And how he might have an impact that matters, for his family and the world.

    So he came up with the Photo Ark — something he works on pretty much full-time, with support from National Geographic (the Ark is featured on their cover each year now for 10 years), but which he also supports by lectures like the one last night (which I’m happy to say was quite well-attended).

    As noted above, he’s been on this quest for 11 years, and anticipates it taking another 10-15, going at it as fast as he can. He realized early on that the methods that enable him and other NG photographers to shoot, for instance, piranhas in their natural habitat — which can take weeks or months (he told the story of his time in the Amazonian jungle doing that in harrowing detail, but with his usual light humor) — wouldn’t work. He’d never come close to getting the job done in his lifetime.

    So he started shooting endangered species, with studio quality, in captivity. (And he has a great spiel on how wonderful zoos, and the work they do, are.) Some of them he shot right here at Riverbanks, which he says is a wonderful zoo that we should all support as members.

    He does it to his own exacting standards, but also as fast as he can. Because there’s so much left to do. And while I don’t think he stated this specifically (but he might have; you know about my hearing problems), I got the impression this mission enables him to be away from his family less. In fact, his son is part of the staff that helps him get it done. His base remains at home in Nebraska.

    And he DOES make a difference, which he was happy to note in several instances with great satisfaction. But he still remained the same easygoing, unassuming Joel even when he was talking about how, for instance, a photo he took persuaded the government of Australia to do something about all the koalas being killed by encroachment on their habitat (more specifically, by cars and dogs). With Joel, you know it’s not about him, but about the creatures he’s shooting, and the world in which we all live.

    Anyway, I found the event last night to be deeply inspiring. And it was great chatting with Joel VERY briefly after (there was a long line of people waiting to meet him), for the first time in 30 years.

    I urge y’all to do whatever you can to help Joel in his mission. My wife I and I have resolved to do one small thing, in our “own backyard,” which is where Joel said we should start.

    More about that later.

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