At Close Range with National Geographic

At Close Range with National Geographic

Mon, 08/30/2010 - 8:00pm

Joel Sartore knew his visit to Madidi National Park (Bolivia) would be no walk in the park. But he didn't count on the drone of sweat bees - or the burrowing maggots or the flesh-eating parasite ...

Credit: Courtesy of Rosamaria Ruiz

An intimate profile of National Geographic photographer Joel Sartore on the job and at home.

National Geographic magazine photographer Joel Sartore shoots in some of the most exotic locales on earth, but often in wretched conditions for weeks on end, and always under pressure to produce pictures worthy of publication in a legendary magazine. A devoted husband and father of three, he often wonders if it’s the best job in the world — or the worst …

At Close Range with National Geographic, encoring Monday, August 30 at 8 p.m. on PBS World (cable 524/DT21.2), provides a rare glimpse of the havoc a tough, dangerous job can create on someone’s personal life, especially someone like Joel Sartore.

On the job, Sartore has been chased by bears, wolves, alligators and musk oxen. Recently, as he watched an anaconda seize an egret in the Pantanal of Brazil (observing how he “could hear the bones of the bird giving way in small muffled explosions as it was crushed to death”), the eight-foot snake turned and struck at him. It missed.

“You have to be really patient,” says Sartore. “If I weren’t Type A and very obsessive-compulsive, there’s no way I’d do this. Most shoots I’m covered with bugs. I’m laying in my own urine in a blind. Or maybe I’m laying in my own urine on purpose because I need butterflies to fly low over a beach because they’re attracted to the salt in urine. And if you weren’t wound tight like me to get good pictures, why in the world would you ever do something like this? I don’t think you could stand it!”

The film features interviews with National Geographic magazine photo editors in Washington, DC — the people who painstakingly edit 30,000 to 40,000 individual frames down to the 10 to 20 that appear in a typical magazine story. The camaraderie between Sartore and his bosses is astonishing and often hilarious. National Geographic remains the only national publication in the business that brings its photographers to the “home office” to have a say in which images make it to the printed page.

The film also takes a probing look at the photojournalist in his own backyard. At once charismatic and deeply revealing, Sartore and his family create a dramatic and poignant sub-plot that leaves its audience pondering large, philosophical questions about marriage and fatherhood.

At Close Range is the story of a remarkable, exceedingly funny and strangely modest internationally acclaimed photographer — a person who wants nothing more than to save the world. Joel Sartore reminds us of where we fit in the cosmos, and what we owe to the next generation of all the earth’s inhabitants.