Joel Sartore’s larger than life images of animals – especially endangered species – have been made iconic projected on world monuments such as The Empire State Building and The Vatican in the documentary Racing Extinction, and an Atlanta-based foundation is honoring the anthropomorphic auteur for his work to capture and share portraits of every animal on earth and to mobilize people into action to protect them.
On the eve of being honored as Captain Planet Foundation’s “Exemplar,” for his life’s work, famed photographer and National Geographic fellow Sartore proclaimed, “We are the last generation that can save our full complement of species.” He said the Internet gives everyone unprecedented access and power to make a hyperlocal difference saving animal species and preserving biodiversity.
Based on the animated TV series in its name, Captain Planet Foundation was co-founded in 1991 by Ted Turner and producer Barbara Pyle and helps make grants to and operates hands-on environmental education projects that serve children in 50 U.S. states and 26 countries. One of its programs, Project Hero, challenges kids to save endangered pollinator species in Georgia, California, Colorado and Texas. The foundation’s annual gala is Atlanta’s largest environmental education fundraiser and assembles game changers in helping save the earth and its resources.
In an interview at the gala, Sartore – whose book National Geographic The Photo Ark: One Man’s Quest to Document the World’s Animals makes a great holiday gift – shared details about a dozen of the magnificent creatures he’s encountered and chronicled.
Sartore urges individuals to #SaveTogether by eating less meat (the production of this food product is energy intensive), eliminating lawn chemicals that permeate soil and watching how you spend money: many products are made from old growth tropical forest wood or palm oil that specifically harms orangutans and birds. He also encourages support of zoos and aquariums, where some animals only exist in abundant human care. “When we quit caring about nature, we stop saving it,” he said.
Sartore has photographed 7,500 of 15,000 captive species to date and estimates 12 more years to fully complete Project Ark. He captures portraits on black and white backgrounds with signature eye contact to help make the animals even more relatable to humans: “All animals get an equal voice.” Some of those animals are now extinct, such as the Rabbs’ fringe-limbed tree frog, who died of old age in his loving home at the Atlanta Botanical Garden.
Among Sartore’s contemporary inspirations are Ted Turner, who manages midwestern ranches, Laura Turner Seydel, with whom he serves on Defenders of Wildlife, and his fellow Conservation International board-mate Harrison Ford, who wrote the forward to his book.