Its hard to find a job title that sums up Joel Sartore.
Officially, hes been a freelance photographer for National Geographic for two decades. But hes also a lobbyist for endangered species, a traveler, speaker, teacher, author of at least four books and conservationist.
Ask the Nebraska man about the times he was chased by lions, grizzly bears, elephants, wolves, musk oxen and polar bears and hell give you a short answer. Ask him about the animals themselves and hell unleash a passionate monologue about the importance of saving endangered species and how were all connected.
This weekend, hes bringing his stunning images and real-life stories about being a wildlife photographer to Puyallup High School as a fund raiser for Northwest Trek Wildlife Park.
Question. Youve become a champion for many of the animals you document. What role does conservation play in your job?
Answer: Im trying to save the world. When we save a major species, were actually saving ourselves. We need healthy forests to regulate our climates. We need healthy oceans for the same reasons. We need birds and bats to eat the insects that would destroy our crops.
We seem to think our food literally comes from the grocery store and water comes from tap. We have to get people to wake up. Literally, our future existence of the species depends on how we treat the species around us. Its folly to think we can doom everything else to extinction and not have it come back to bite us.
Most species Ive photographed could be saved if people paid a little attention to them. My job is to act as a witness, let people know whats going on and to try and get them to care about more than the price at the pump and whats on television.
Q: How do you find the rare animals youve photographed?
A: Most of the time I work with biologists who have been working with that animal for many years in a captive-breeding situation or in the wild. I go to people that understand whats going on with this species.
Q: What do you want people to take away when they see your work?
A: These pictures give a voice to the voiceless. I started a project I call the Photo Ark eight years ago. My goal is to photograph as many captive animals as I can using black and white lighting and a backdrop. Each species is an entry point into the tip of conservation. You can really look them in the eye and you hopefully care and think its interesting enough to read about and wonder whats causing it to be in trouble and what I can do to help.
Q: Do you have a master list of animals youre hoping to photograph? How far along are you?
A: There are 6 to 7,000 species captive in zoos. We are at 2,784 and Im getting more all the time. Yesterday I added gray-necked wood-rail and pale giant squirrel at the Omaha zoo. Ive been waiting to shoot that squirrel for three years. We have a short list of things we can do at Point Defiance Zoo so off we go.
Q: What are some of the most unique areas youve seen?
A: Uganda, Africa and South Africa: Some work in Hong Kong. Ive been from the High Arctic to Antarctica: Ive been to every continent now and all 50 states.
Q: Do you have a favorite?
A: Antarctica is the best place for sure because its very pristine and it has animals that arent scared of people (King penguins, leopard seals) because we never got down there and killed them off.
Q: Is there any particular animal youre most passionate about?
A: Its always the next one Im going to photograph. Im really worried about how primates are going to do. A lot of amphibians are also in trouble due to climate change. There are lots of things I get excited about and want to document. Its a race to see where I can get to before they no longer exist.
Q: Do you get to choose your own assignments?
A: Because we spend up to a year on the story, National Geographic really wants us to be into whatever they assign us. They dont force us to take anything. Half the time I suggest the stories I work on and the other half they assign me.
Q: Are there any downfalls to your job?
A: Im gone a lot. I have a wife and three children who dont like that. If you travel enough, youre bound to run into bad things. I got a flesh-eating parasite, which was bad, in the Bolivia Amazon jungle. That took month-long heavy chemotherapy to treat Theres always a particle of risk but I feel its worth it because theres a lot at stake.
Q: Your topic when you speak in Puyallup is the same as your book RARE: Portraits of Americas Endangered Species. What made you choose that?
A: When you look at the book hopefully people will realize, Holy cow, these species are all in our country and theyre in trouble and surely theres something we can do to help save them. Thats the whole thing with awareness. People cant save what they dont already know about. It wont be boring, I can promise them that. Theyll learn exactly what its like to be a National Geographic photographer. Im going to tell them the real story.
Stacia Glenn: 253-597-8653
IF YOU GO
Joel Sartore, National Geographic photographer, will talk about what its like to be a wildlife photographer.
When: 7-9 p.m. Saturday
Where: Puyallup High Schools auditorium, 105 Seventh St. SW., Puyallup.
Cost: Tickets range from $15 to $30. REI members can get a buy-one, get-one-free coupon from the Tacoma store and follow details on the coupon. Tickets are available at nwtrek.org or brownpapertickets.com.