Building an ark closer to home

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By Whitney Johnson, Director of Visual and Immersive Experiences

How do you document the world’s creatures when the world stopped for a pandemic? If you’re Nat Geo’s Joel Sartore, who has photographed 10,531 mainly captive species so far for his wondrous Photo Ark, you change tactics.

At his Nebraska home for the longest duration of his career, Joel realized that thousands of insects continued nearby in their own world. So Joel enlisted two of his children, Ellen and Spencer, and they spent the next eight months working night and day to document nearly 1,000 species, including the vivid, intricate red-banded leafhoppers (Graphocephala coccinea) shown above.

All of Joel’s photos in this newsletter were made during the pandemic, he tells me. “Most were made in Nebraska, where I live, but I also shot at other places that I could drive to and shoot safely, such as at our family cabin in Minnesota, and at a friend’s empty guest house in rural Santa Fe, New Mexico.”

The effort expands on a mission that Joel began in 2006 with the photo of a naked mole rat in a zoo a mile away from his home. With so many species threatened, he sought to establish a photographic record of such animals, many found in zoos and sanctuaries. “I’d done almost 20 years of photographing in the wild, and I wasn’t moving the needle very much in terms of getting people to care,” Joel explained to us in 2018.

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Open for business: Joel and his family rigged lights on their property starting in June to attract nighttime visitors.

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Modest travels: The Sartores didn’t stay rooted to Nebraska, but they weren’t jetting off internationally, Clockwise from top left: pink underwing moth (Catocala concumbens) in central Minnesota; common desert centipede (Scolopendra polymorpha) in Santa Fe; a buffalo treehopper (Ceresa taurina) near Walton, Nebraska; rainbow grasshoppers (Dactylotum bicolor) in Lakeside, Nebraska.

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A moment's rest: An adult male small minnow mayfly (Procloeon sp.) from Minnesota.

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Yikes! A jumping spider (Phidippus clarus) from Audubon Spring Creek Prairie near Denton, Nebraska.

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Tools of the trade: In the daytime, Joel, left, and his daughter, Ellen, 23, who normally is selling vintage clothing, used sweep nets through native prairie in the countryside near their home. His younger son, Spencer, 17, who loves to restore vintage cars and is a black belt in karate, also has put in a huge effort on the insect hunt.

Of photography and his children, Joel says, “They don’t like it at all. We’ve dragged them into this since they were kids.” But Joel tells my colleague David Beard that the pandemic has brought them together, and they each love the Photo Ark project and have a newfound admiration for insects, which Joel calls “the base of everything.”

For a photographer who began his mission with that bucktoothed mole rat, Joel takes pleasure in smaller animals and insects. Why? “Nobody’s ever going to give them the time of day,” Joel once said.

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Today in a minute

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From isolation to tragedy: When missionaries contacted some of Peru’s Mastanahua tribe early this century, only Shuri (above), his two wives, and his mother-in-law chose to end their isolation in the forest. Their lives, captured by Nat Geo photographer Charlie Hamilton James, was featured in an October 2018 cover story. Earlier this month, the bodies of Shuri and his family had been found, slain by arrows, near their palm-thatched shelter along the Curanja River. Their deaths highlight the exceedingly difficult struggle for tribes joining modern society, as well as the increased crowding and competition for resources in even the most remote parts of the Amazon.

Related video: How isolated tribes are threatened

From ‘Lights’ to ‘Lives’: Three decades ago, Robert Clark took 137 rolls of film of the Permian Panthers, a winning Texas high school football team. About 20 of those images appeared in Buzz Bissinger’s Friday Night Lights, his best-selling chronicle of the Permian Panthers, which became a film and a TV series as well. Now Clark, a longtime Nat Geo contract photographer, has released Friday Night Lives, which has dozens more photographs of the Panthers’ 1988 season and catches up with some of key Panthers today.

The image Gordon Parks didn’t take: Biographer John Edwin Mason said that the trailblazing photographer had become friends with Muhammad Ali while trailing the boxing champion for two classic stories for Life magazine in the 1960s. But Parks wouldn’t photograph the bruised, battered, wordless Ali after his pounding by Joe Frazier in 1971, Mason said Tuesday night in a talk at Wichita’s Ulrich Museum of Art. As Parks told Life, “my friendship with him outdistanced my journalistic choices. I couldn’t bring myself to release the shutter."

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Hidden: A new book featuring 40 photographers worldwide seeks to show the little-known underside of humans’ relationship with animals. An estimated 80 billion land animals are used and consumed by humans each year, write Jo-Anne McArthur and Keith Wilson, co-authors of Hidden: Animals in the Antropocene. They note that more than 75 percent of new or emerging infectious diseases spread to humans from animals. Pictured above, a modern dairy herd in Poland, complete with steel barriers, concrete floors, tiled walls, and push-button technology.

Your Instagram of the day

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In repose: During celebrations following President-elect Joe Biden’s victory, Brigitte Bidet sat in Freedom Park in the Five Points neighborhood of Atlanta. “This is the South that I would want to see more of,” she told photographer Chris Gregory-Rivera in reaction to the Biden victory. Unlike other states in the Deep South, Biden was declared a winner in Georgia, paced by voters in the state’s cities and suburbs. These days, the state has a higher political profile, as its two runoff U.S. Senate elections in January may determine power in the upper house of Congress.

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The last glimpse

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Leaping deer at night: A century ago, photographers had few tools to take quality nighttime images, much less action shots such as these deer. Writer-photographer George Shiras pioneered several techniques to do it, detailed by National Geographic in August 1921. The article focused on wildlife around Lake Superior. Take a look below at our collection of animals at night over the years.

This newsletter has been curated and edited by David Beard, and Jen Tse selected the photographs. Kimberly Pecoraro and Gretchen Ortega helped produce this, and Amanda Williams-Bryant, Rita Spinks, Alec Egamov, and Jeremy Brandt-Vorel also contributed this week. Have an idea or a link? We’d love to hear from you at . Thanks for reading, and have a good weekend!