Joel Sartore at the Tennessee Aquarium

Exterior of the Tennessee Aquairum, River Journey, entrance, with a Joel Sartore photograph of a slider (turtle) at the entrance, people going in.
Photo by Marie Cullis.

The Tennessee Aquarium in Chattanooga, Tennessee, recently opened an exhibit featuring the work of award-winning photographer and National Geographic Explorer Joel Sartore and the National Geographic Photo Ark project. They launched the exhibit with an event featuring Joel Sartore and his son Cole Sartore, who presented their story. I was lucky to purchase a ticket to it before they sold out.

National Geographic Photo Ark Logo in black, gray, and yellow on white background.

Orange spotted filefish - aqua and orange spotted - against a white background.
Orange spotted filefish, Oxymonacanthus longirostris, at Omaha’s Henry Doorly Zoo and Aquarium, Nebraska, 2013. Joel Sartore/National Geographic Photo Ark, natgeophotoark.org.
Close up of an octopus, viewpoint looking underneath the creature, viewing its red tentacles and white suckers.
An octopus, Octopoda, at Dallas World Aquarium, Texas, 2013. Joel Sartore/National Geographic Photo Ark, natgeophotoark.org.

What is the National Geographic Photo Ark?

“The Photo Ark uses the power of photography to inspire people to help save species at risk before it’s too late.

“The interaction between animals and their environments is the engine that keeps the planet healthy for all of us. But for many species, time is running out. When you remove one, it affects us all.

“The National Geographic Photo Ark is a multiyear effort to raise awareness of and find solutions to some of the most pressing issues affecting wildlife and their habitats. The Photo Ark’s three-pronged approach harnesses the power of National Geographic photography and the bold ideas of our explorers. Led by National Geographic Explorer and photographer Joel Sartore, the project aims to document every species living in the world’s zoos and wildlife sanctuaries, inspire action through education, and help save wildlife by supporting on-the-ground conservation efforts.”1

“I want to get people to care, to fall in love, and to take action.” -Joel Sartore

Joel Sartore with frill necked lizard, Chlamydosaurus kingii, Joel facing the camera, holding his camera, lizard in white photo box.
Joel Sartore with frill-necked lizard, Chlamydosaurus kingii, at a high school in Victoria, Australia, 2017 during a shoot for the National Geographic Photo Ark, natgeophotoark.org. Photo by Douglas Gimesy.

The Photo Ark is the world’s largest collection of animal portraits, documenting species before they disappear. The goal is to get the public to care, while there’s still time. Sartore knows we can save species from extinction. He’s photographed over 15,000 species so far. His goal is to photograph all 25,000 species in captivity in zoos, aquariums, and wildlife sanctuaries around the world. Here’s a short video about his work:

And here’s another video regarding the Photo Ark and the Extinction Crisis:

Lucky Me

I’ve been a big fan of Sartore’s for many years, not just because of his photography but his call for conservation and love for the species we are losing. A few years ago, my spouse even gifted me an autographed copy of Sartore’s National Geographic Photo Basics: The Ultimate Beginner’s Guide to Great Photography. I wrote about Sartore in 2019 when The Photo Ark Vanishing: The World’s Most Vulnerable Animals was first published. I watched a three-episode documentarian PBS series titled Rare: Creatures of the Photo Ark with my son when he was 6.

When I heard about this event, I knew the tickets would be limited and sell out quickly. That’s why I say I’m lucky that I got a ticket!

From the emails about the event, I expected to attend a 30-minute talk with Joel Sartore and his son, Cole, and then be able to tour the Aquarium. But the talk lasted for an hour, and it was inspiring! They told funny family stories and the journey of the Photo Ark.

Joel Sartore speaking at bottom right, with a large screen projection featuring a bison.
Photo by Marie Cullis.
Joel and Cole Sartore looking out at an audience, wood paneled background.
Photo by Marie Cullis.

The Tennessee Aquarium Exhibit

After, I got to tour the Aquarium and eat fancy hors d’oeuvres. They served beverages in real glasses and used paper plates and bamboo forks for food. I appreciated this since most places in the Southeast still serve everything in plastic and styrofoam.

Today we are losing species at rates 1,000 times greater than ever before.” -Joel Sartore

I’ve been to the Tennessee Aquarium many times, often with my young son who often flies through exhibits (though this seems to be improving with age). I appreciated the Aquarium more that night, not just because I could linger at my leisure this time, but also because of Sartore’s inspiring words. He called the audience to action in his talk and said that we should find something we are passionate about and do something about it. He said to consider what we can do to help and inspire others to help. I thought I am already doing that! and felt good that I use my website to highlight environmental issues, promote solutions, and inspire others.

There are about two dozen of these large banners of Joel Sartore Photo Ark photography throughout both buildings at the Tennessee Aquarium, and it will run through the end of 2024. You should go see them if you have the opportunity! Here are just a few:

Close up of a southern flying squirrel on a black background.
Southern Flying Squirrel, National Geographic Photo Ark. Banner photographed by Marie Cullis.
Spotted Salamander, black with yellow spots, on white background.
Spotted Salamander, National Geographic Photo Ark. Banner photographed by Marie Cullis.
Close up of a Nashville crayfish, showing head and claws only, on a black background.
Nashville Crayfish, National Geographic Photo Ark. Banner photographed by Marie Cullis.
Macaroni penguin, back facing camera with wings out, white background.
Macaroni Penguin, National Geographic Photo Ark. Banner photographed by Marie Cullis.

Other Exhibits

I’m not a professional photographer, but I captured a couple of cool photographs of my own that evening.

Large blue fish, close up of its face.
Photo by Marie Cullis.
Electric eel staring through an aquarium, red with small eyes.
Electric eel. Photo by Marie Cullis

My favorite exhibits at the Tennessee Aquarium are the ones that teach about plastic, pollution, and saving turtles.

Metal bin with plastic trash collected from the Tennessee River. Exhibit text on lime green background.
Exhibit showing plastic trash collected from the Tennessee River at the Tennessee Aquarium. Photo by Marie Cullis.
Exhibit showing human objects in a river basin, includes a car battery, a tire, a cell phone, and other plastic objects.
Exhibit showing human objects in a river basin at the Tennessee Aquarium. Photo by Marie Cullis.
Exhibit on saving turtles, includes exhibit panels, graphics, and interactive monitor.
Exhibit on saving turtles at the Tennessee Aquarium. Photo by Marie Cullis.

I also took photos of a plastic art piece at the Aquarium and added it to my Plastic Art Projects page.

The best part, for me, was that I got to personally meet Joel Sartore just before I left. I shook his hand and told him how much I loved his work. Our conversation was brief but meaningful, and something I’ll always remember.

“This is the best time ever to save species because so many need our help.” -Joel Sartore

Visit the Tennessee Aquarium when you have the chance! Also, please support The Photo Ark! Thank you for reading, please share and subscribe!

red eyed tree frog, bright green skin, orange feet, red eyes, black background.
Red-eyed tree frog, Agalychnis callidryas, photographed in Seattle, Washington, 2011. Joel Sartore/National Geographic Photo Ark, natgeophotoark.org.

 

Links:

National Geographic Photo Ark

Joel Sartore

Tennessee Aquarium

Footnote:

With Extinction on the Rise, Joel Sartore works to fill his Photo Ark

Last updated on November 13, 2021.

Photo of a rhinoceros, close up of face, black and white image.
Photo by jean wimmerlin on Unsplash.

When I first wrote this article, I’d already written about how the Trump administration weakened the Endangered Species Act (ESA) in 2019. A report from the United Nations report indicated that up to a million species may be threatened with extinction.1 One million!

“We are on the brink of a global extinction crisis. The Intergovernmental Science-Policy Platform on Biodiversity and Ecosystem Services (IPBES) found that up to one million plant and animal species face extinction, many within decades, because of human activities.” -Joel Sartore2

But despite the depressing news, I wanted to share something that truly inspired me.

National Geographic October 2019 cover of a dying rhinoceros
Cover of National Geographic October 2019, available for purchase at bookstores and online.

We’re Losing Species at an Alarming Rate

This cover of National Geographic caught my eye and I checked it out from the library. It features a keeper at a conservancy in Kenya saying goodbye to the last male northern white rhinoceros. Yes, you read that correctly – the last male. There are two females left. In the whole world.3

How did it come to this? Mostly from human activity such as poaching, pollution, habitat destruction for land and logging, pesticides, and climate change. The rhinoceros is a keystone species with a 50 million-year-old lineage, and in just the last 100 years we have brought it to near extinction. The author of the article wrote, “Watching a creature die—one who is the last of its kind—is something I hope never to experience again. It felt like watching our own demise.”4

Photo of a newborn sea turtle on the beach, black and white image.
Photo by Alfonso Navarro on Unsplash.

“When we see ourselves as part of nature, we understand that saving nature is really about saving ourselves.” -Ami Vitale, National Geographic5

Joel Sartore & The Photo Ark

The same issue of National Geographic featured an article about Joel Sartore, a photographer who has worked for the magazine for 25 years. The Photo Ark6 is “an effort to document every species living in zoos and wildlife sanctuaries,” and Sartore has photographed nearly 11,000 species. The goal is 20,000.7

His ultimate goal is “to get the public to care about the extinction crisis while there’s still time.” His work is beautiful, stunning, and astonishing.8 The editor of National Geographic asked Sartore, “What do you want people to know about the state of life on Earth?” He responded, “A recent intergovernmental report says that as many as one million species are already on their way to extinction. It’s folly to think that we can throw away so much life and not have it affect humanity in a profound and negative way.”9

Photo of two elephants, one on land and the other in a lake or pond. Black and white image.
Photo by Florian van Duyn on Unsplash.

“The biggest question of our time is: Will we wake up and act, or will we stare into our smartphones all the way down to disaster? My goal is to get the public to care about the extinction crisis while there’s still time to save the planet and everything that lives here.” -Joel Sartore10

Check out his work

Sartore did a TEDx Talk in 2013 and talked about photographing the first few thousand animals for The Photo Ark. The video is almost 20 minutes long but I promise it’s worth your time, especially the second half.

Sartore and The Photo Ark have published several books that feature his photographs, including children’s books. They include animals that have gone extinct just in the few years since he photographed them. There’s also a fascinating three-episode documentarian PBS series entitled Rare: Creatures of the Photo Ark about this project. I’ve featured these books on my Books page under the Endangered Animals section. I’ll also put links to The Photo Ark’s store and the film under Additional Resources.

“The intersection of plants, animals, and their environment is the engine that keeps the planet healthy for all of us. But for many species, time is running out. When you remove one, it affects us all. The National Geographic Photo Ark is using the power of photography to inspire people to help save species at risk before it’s too late.” -Photo Ark Wonders11

What can you do?

There are so many things you can do! Follow legislation related to endangered species, habitat destruction, hunting and poaching, and pollution. Pay attention to what’s going on in your area locally, too. Donate money to any of the organizations that protect wildlife and the environment. Keep learning from leaders like Joel Sartore, Jeff Corwin, David Attenborough, Jane Goodall, and so many others that I haven’t mentioned. Share their information, shows, and books. Educate your friends and your children on the dangers of extinction. Spread the word!

Thanks for reading, and please subscribe!

Cover of Vanishing book

A note about the images used in this post: In order to not violate copyright and maintain a free website, I did not use any images belonging to Joel Sartore.

 

Additional Resources:

Page, The Photo Ark store, joelsartore.com.

Documentary, Rare: Creatures of the Photo Ark, PBS, 2017.

 

Footnotes: