What we're reading: May 2017

This collection of classic photo portraits of the world's animals are disarmingly sensitive and revealing, serving as a clarion call to save our endangered species

Published 7 May 2017, 09:00 BST, Updated 8 Jul 2021, 14:56 BST
The Photo Ark
The Photo Ark.

Portrait photography is a specialist field, often finding focus on the famous, infamous and enigmatically anonymous. It's a field that rarely turns its attentions to animals. But this is exactly what photographer, speaker and long-time contributor to National Geographic, Joel Sartore, has been doing for much of his professional life: taking portraits of the world's animals, especially those that are endangered. The resulting body of work — which has been documented in the magazine's pages and featured in an on-going online campaign — is now collected in a glossy photography book: a bright, bold message for us to get to know our planet's animals, and to save them. 

The beautiful beginnings of what's been dubbed the Photo Ark, 6,000 animal portraits have been taken so far: a lifelong project for Sartore, who intends to take a portrait of every animal in captivity in the world. His ultimate aim is to create studio portraits of 12,000 species while travelling the globe, visiting zoos and wildlife rescue centres. His emphasis is on animals facing extinction, with standout images including a gorgeously coy-looking Florida panther named Lucy at Tampa's Lowry Park Zoo, and an endearingly orderly row of critically endangered ploughshare tortoises, confiscated by a zoo in Atlanta after being stolen; cute: yes, but also full of wild character.

In keeping with classic portraiture, the images are disarmingly distinct from most wildlife photographers, with each animal posed against either a white or black background, accompanied by sobering words from veteran wildlife writer Douglas Chadwick, and a splashy intro from Harrison Ford. Sensitive, revealing, and at times utterly mesmerising, this may be portraiture at its most powerful.

The Photo Ark by Joel Sartore, is published by National Geographic. RRP: $35 (£28)

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Published in the June 2017 issue of National Geographic Traveller (UK)

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