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Exhibitions: Joel Sartore's Photo Ark, Now at the Annenberg Space for Photography

By Gina Williams   Monday November 19, 2018


In 2007, National Geographic photographer and Fellow Joel Sartore photographed the last remaining creature of her kind at the Oregon Zoo in Portland: “Bryn,” a Columbia Basin pygmy rabbit. Her death in 2008 meant the end of her genetic line.

That portrait, like thousands of others of animal species in human care from around the world, is  part of Sartore’s Photo Ark project, an ambitious, multi-year effort to shoot studio-quality portraits of every species living in the world’s zoos and wildlife sanctuaries, including mammals, reptiles, birds, fish, amphibians, and even insects. His goal is to inspire people not only to care for but also to help protect animals from extinction before it’s too late.

The Photo Ark traveling exhibition is on view at the Annenberg Space for Photography in Los Angeles through January 13, 2019. The show marks the first time these extraordinary images are being exhibited in a space dedicated solely to the art of photography. Sartore's stunning, large-format prints allow visitors to come eye-to-eye with a selection of more than 8,000 species he has photographed in dozens of countries.

Giant panda twin cubs at Zoo Atlanta

A springbok mantis at the Auckland Zoo, New Zealand

A Sumatran tiger at the Miller Park Zoo, Bloomington, Illinois


“Photo Ark gives visitors the opportunity to experience the animal kingdom up close and personal,” said Annenberg Foundation Chairman, President and CEO Wallis Annenberg. “The powerful close-up images Joel has captured grab viewers and don’t let go. His brilliant photography connects us to creatures we may know little about and inspires us to want to take action to protect them.”

The project itself was borne out of a different kind of crisis, but one that also similarly demanded action, compassion and hope. In 2005, Sartore’s wife, Kathy, was diagnosed with breast cancer. He remained home in Lincoln, Nebraska, during that time to care for her and their three children. Instead of going out on assignments, he began photographing portraits of animals in the local zoo. Sartore began to realize the potential of the images and made it his goal to photograph an estimated 12,000 species in captivity. In August 2018, he photographed his 8,000th animal, the endangered Pyrenean desman, a rare shrew-like aquatic mammal. Sartore figures it will take another 10 or more years to finish his quest.

An African wild dog at Omaha’s Henry Doorly Zoo and Aquarium


An endangered Coquerel’s sifaka at the Houston Zoo

Sartore with a clouded leopard cub at the Columbus Zoo, Columbus, Ohio


Interactive components are a highlight of the Annenberg exhibition. The show includes a documentary film providing a behind-the scenes look at Sartore’s project, its mission and conservation efforts; interactive animal-related games; a studio where guests can be photographed with their favorite animal as a backdrop; and a gallery devoted to California’s indigenous species.

“The beauty of the National Geographic Photo Ark is that it allows audiences around the world to look at creatures of all shapes and sizes in the eyes and gain a better understanding and appreciation of the planet’s biodiversity,” said Kathryn Keane, Vice President of Public Experiences at the National Geographic Society. “We are thrilled to be working with Annenberg Space for Photography to highlight the power of photography to make an impact.”

In addition to creating an archival record for generations to come, Annenberg organizers say the project is a platform for conservation and shines a light on individuals and organizations, such as the Annenberg Foundation, working to support animal welfare and conservation efforts.

The Photo Ark exhibit is organized and traveled by the National Geographic Society. Learn more at NatGeoPhotoArk.org. Photo Ark fans and animal lovers are invited to join the conversation on social media with the #PhotoArk
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At top: a veiled chameleon at Rolling Hills Wildlife Adventure, Salina, Kansas

Gina Williams is a Portland, Oregon USA-based arts & culture journalist with a focus on photography and photographers internationally. Learn more about her and her work at GinaMarieWilliams.com and follow her photography and travel blog at AccentsandApertures.com.

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