Joel Sartore had been working as a National Geographic wildlife photographer for 15 long years. When his wife, Kathy, was diagnosed with breast cancer, instead of traveling the world and taking snaps, he stayed at home in his hometown of Lincoln, Nebraska to look after and nurse her through chemotherapy and radiation treatments, as well as caring for their three children.
Joel took a year off from his work and during this time he decided to highlight the plight of endangered species, which he thought was not getting any better. As his wife recuperated, Joel began photographing awe-inspiring pictures and during this time, the answer came to him. At a children’s zoo, he took a picture of a mole-rat on a white background, thus making it look like as if it was taken in a professional studio.
In an interview with BBC, he said “I thought maybe if we do eye-contact, if we photograph animals where there are no distractions, all equal in size on black and white backgrounds, where a mouse is every bit as big and amazing as an elephant, then maybe we could get the public hooked into the plight of endangered species and extinction.”
After that, the photographer started to take pictures of smaller animals in tents. But, he remained reliant on the safer environment of zoos for relatively larger ones.
As the project grew, the editors of National Geographic commissioned him to create a few series of photographs in the same style on America’s endangered species.
Sartore has photographed more than 6000 species in 40 countries over the last decade. His project has been developed into The National Geographic Photo Ark, and his pictures are portrayed on to the National Geographic Magazine covers and also have been projected onto buildings like the Empire state building in New York, the Vatican in Rome and the UN building.
Sartore hopes this project will eventually document 12,000 species and will become a resource for future generations.
"At least 75-80% of the species that I've photographed could be saved from extinction, but people need to know they exist first and they need to fall in love with them and want to learn how they can help them," Joel said.
Sartore further added that, though the cognizance of bigger animals like tiger and polar bears being under threat is understood, there is not enough awareness of the plight of smaller ones like toads, bats and rodents.
Here are some of Sartore's best known efforts:
All images sourced from joelsartore
Title image: kids.nationalgeographic