It was a wild night at the Ardmore Convention Center Tuesday as the Noble Foundation’s Profiles and Perspectives kicked off with National Geographic photographer Joel Sartore.
He was a presenter for the series previously, and was widely asked to return and present again.
After Tuesday’s presentation, it’s apparent why.
The world-renowned photographer put on a show that was entertaining, influential, shocking and educational for the overflowing crowd. Pictures of his journeys to Africa, Australia, South America and various zoos and animal habitats worldwide struck a variety of emotions in the audience.
“When I look for photos, I look for the weird, the strange stuff, things that will make people take notice,” he said. “But I want to convey a message with some of the things I take as well.”
Sartore began his career as a newspaper photographer for the Wichita Eagle in Wichita, Kan. The weird and strange approach to his work made National Geographic take notice, and the magazine hired him.
His first example of a story was of a trip to Alaska to shoot grizzly bears, where they’re famous for their salmon fishing. After showing a stream of photos depicting bears in their natural habitats and in training facilities, he showed a picture of two grizzly bears digging through garbage dumpsters in Alaska.
“See, the bears can get along fine around us, but we can’t get along around them,” Sartore said. “Digging through the trash is great for them, because there’s all kinds of food in there, but they get in our way.”
Sartore followed that photo with a picture of stacked bear-skin rugs made from bears killed in Alaska, showing what humans do with bears that “get in our way.”
He also showed photos illustrating the impact humans have on migrating species. In Canada, the pronghorn antelope have somewhat adapted to the use of barbed-wire fence, but still have problems. Built to keep cattle at bay, the fences obstruct the southern migration of the pronghorn. But instead of jumping over the fence, pronghorn like to crawl under. Sartore’s photos of the animal crawling under the fence educate farmers who build them.
“They see that they crawl under the fence, so why not raise that bottom wire to 18 inches and keep it a smooth wire instead of barbed wire,” he said. “It’s that kind of stuff I want to convey with my photographs.”
It was at this point, Sartore began speaking to his goal of educating his audience on the importance of animal preservation.
“We have to ensure the continuation of many of these animals,” he said. “They’re important to maintaining our ecosystem.”
During a trip to Africa, he snapped photos of farmland butting up against wildlife reserves.
“They are so desperate for money and food there with the population explosions, that they are wiping away acres and acres of habitat land for these animals,” Sartore said.
The result of much of the deforestation and habitat loss is the extinction of many species.
While shooting a series on endangered species, Sartore shot a photo of a Snake River Sockeye salmon that had returned for spawning.
“They had one return for spawning, and I realized when I shot that photo I was witnessing the extinction of something right before my eyes,” he said.
Sartore has also photographed amphibians who are threatened with extinction or are now extinct. On a trip to a cloud forest in Ecuador at the Amphibian breeding center — the largest in the southern hemisphere — he was planning on shooting photos of the frogs as they were attempting to breed.
“As I was setting up, they said, ‘We want you to shoot some of the rare ones. Here, take a picture of this one, there’s only nine left, or here, this one only has five left, and we don’t know how to get them to breed, or there’s only three of this one left’,” Sartore said. “I thought, man, this is epic and dramatic.”
Sartore also got to photograph the Rabbs fringe-limbed tree frog in Atlanta, Ga. This frog is the last of its species.
“It’s tragic that we’ve gotten to this point,” he said.
Tuesday’s presentation was much more than educational. He had photos of his family in “unique” Christmas cards, photos of penguins in Antarctica and funny photos of him hiding under a jeep from a buffalo or being treed by a grizzly bear. He also injected his cover shots for National Geographic and some beautiful photos that drew several “oos” and “ahs” from the crowd.
But his final message was apparent.
“Animals aren’t good or bad, they just are,” he said. “It’s not my goal to give you an opinion on these animals, but to make sure you have an opinion. I’m not telling you what to think, but just to think.”
He said to never underestimate a group of small people who are genuinely concerned and want to do something, and that it doesn’t have to be the big hitters who make a difference.
“It’s a huge task to save some of these animals, but all it takes is for you to start in your own backyard,” he said. “Just start there and we can all work together to help save some of these animals and our environment.”