PORT TOWNSEND — Joel Sartore went to the zoo in Columbus, Ohio, one day to take pictures of a cheetah and a couple of baby warthogs.
This was a fairly typical day for the founder of the National Geographic Photo Ark, a global effort to show people the magnificence — and vulnerability — of the animal kingdom.
Then a zoo staffer handed Sartore a baby clouded leopard, saying, “Here, you hold him for a while.” Instantly the photographer became the subject of his own photo.
“They were hand-raising him,” Sartore recalled in an email to the Peninsula Daily News, “so he was very used to people, but still a big handful. And his claws were very sharp even though he was a youngster. I think that’s why I’m making that face” in the picture.
This Monday evening, Sartore, at home in Lincoln, Neb., will face viewers in Centrum’s first Communiversity program of the new season.
His presentation about the Photo Ark will be streamed online at 5:30 p.m.; tickets are $15 with registration available via Centrum.org, which is in Port Townsend. Information also is available at 360-385-3102 and [email protected]
A kind of Noah for this ark, Sartore created the project more than a decade ago. His mission: to document every species living in the world’s zoos and wildlife sanctuaries. He then donates the photos to those organizations.
“The goal is to get the public to care, and be moved to save species while there’s still time,” Sartore says in a short video on Centrum’s website.
By now the photographer has visited animal rehabilitation centers, aquariums, sanctuaries and zoos in 60 countries. Using simple backgrounds and studio lighting, he’s made portraits of thousands of birds, fish, mammals, reptiles, amphibians, and invertebrates. The project has years to go yet, but when asked whether he ever feels exhausted, Sartore didn’t hesitate.
“Nope. I think of all the animals who need their voices heard, and also about the conservation heroes that I meet every step of the way,” he said.
“They’re the ones working for decades to save species that you’ve never heard of, just because it’s the right thing to do. Fires me up every time.”
Robert Birman, executive director of Centrum, saw Sartore as the right person to start Communiversity’s second season.
“Here’s an example of employing art — on a global scale — to wage social and environmental change,” he said, adding that he’s chosen another animal advocate to serve as moderator Monday evening.
Martin Haulena, a staff veterinarian at the Vancouver, B.C., Aquarium and a member of its Ocean Wise research team, will join the conversation with Sartore.
This Communiversity talk is like the rest in the series, Birman said: It invites viewers to think anew about art, creativity and each person’s role in shaping a better world.
Jefferson County senior reporter Diane Urbani de la Paz can be reached at 360-417-3509 or [email protected]