Though best known today for his far-reaching conservation project Photo Ark, Joel Sartore is unique among National Geographic photographers in that his body of work has been about people as often as it has been about wildlife and nature.
In addition to the work he has done for National Geographic, Sartore has contributed to Audubon, Time, Life, Newsweek, and Sports Illustrated. These stories have taken him to some of the world’s most beautiful and challenging environments, from the Arctic to the Antarctic, and his photographic subjects have included bullfrogs, Boy Scouts, and beer-guzzling firefighters in the U.K.
After 20 years of photographing animals in the wild, Sartore had a simple, but revolutionary, idea that maybe the best way to inspire people to care about endangered species was through portraiture—an intimate look into the eyes of the animals in danger of extinction. Thus was born Photo Ark, Sartore’s joint project with the National Geographic Society to document as many of the world’s species in captivity with studio-style portraits before they disappear. The mission of Photo Ark is more than to build a catalog of biodiversity; Sartore wants “to get people to care, fall in love, and to take action.”
His work has always aimed to share with us a world worth saving. He fell in love with nature when he learned about Martha, the very last passenger pigeon, from one of his family’s Time-Life picture books.
Sartore is more than halfway through his goal of photographing the world’s captive species, and he is already seeing results—some are even calling him a modern-day Noah. These soulful portraits have served to raise awareness and funding for endangered species, effectively saving a few from extinction and increasing survival odds for others. In 2015, his Photo Ark images were projected on the Empire State Building, the United Nations Building, and St. Peter’s Basilica in promotion of the Academy Award-nominated documentary film Racing Extinction, about the ongoing mass extinction of our world’s animals.
Sartore is the author of numerous books, including Photo Ark: A World Worth Saving, RARE: Portraits of America’s Endangered Species, Photographing Your Family, Nebraska: Under a Big Red Sky, and Let’s Be Reasonable.
His work has been the subject of National Geographic Channel series Explorer and Great Migrations, NBC Nightly News, and the PBS documentary At Close Range. He is also a regular contributor to CBS News Sunday Morning and NPR‘s Weekend Edition.
Sartore is a co-founder of the Grassland Foundation and is currently on the national board of Defenders of Wildlife. A favorite among National Geographic presenters, Sartore’s on-stage hallmarks are his bright sense of humor and Midwestern work ethic.
National Geographic photographer Joel Sartore is on a mission to capture portraits of the world’s species before they disappear. With ingenuity, wit, and a serious midwestern work ethic, Sartore has created the Photo Ark project, the largest archive of its kind with nearly 5,000 images and counting. Hear about his comical mishaps, endearing encounters, and personal stories while documenting a world worth saving.