Joel Sartore, National Geographic photographer, author and environmentalist was the keynote speaker at a recent Valley Forward luncheon. His book, Rare: Portraits of America’s Endangered Species is just out, and the November magazine featured his magnificent migration photos.
His images are famous, but his stories are equally powerful. He spoke about the thrills and pressures of working for the celebrated magazine, addressing how the trips to exotic locations come with the imperative to bring back fantastic images. Most importantly, he offered a nuanced exploration of the difficulties of conservation of wildlife and habitat in our modern world.
The book Rare is the product of a search for images of the rarest of the creatures in our country, the endangered species. Sartore says, “By photographing the most endangered of our plants and animals, I can make the most dramatic plea to get folks to stop and take a look at the pieces and parts that we’re throwing away. Putting them on black or white backgrounds gives all equal weight and consideration, from snail to sea turtle.”
One of the more intriguing aspects of the presentation was a video of a rattlesnake roundup in Oklahoma. While images flashed of people “wrangling”, wading through, being photographed with, and eating rattlesnakes, Sartore explained that this community used to be home to 70,000 people. Only 7,000 live there now, as the population has shrunk due to unemployment and lack of industry. (No not snake bites!) This snake roundup brings tourists to a community desperately in need of income. The author acknowledges that conservation of species, even desperately endangered species, and their habitats will always be held up against the desires of mankind. When will we figure out, Sartore asks, that so goes the wildlife, so goes humanity?