INTERVIEW

Joel Sartore On GH Cameo

Joel Sartore, a National Geographic photographer and National Geographic Photo Ark founder, will appear as himself today, when an exhibit of his work for the Photo Ark launches at the Jerome Gallery.

Sartore, who has traveled to over 50 countries in his quest to document biodiversity for the Photo Ark, which he describes as “a 25-year effort to document every species in human care around the world — in aquariums, wildlife sanctuaries, zoos” — was tickled by the invitation to appear on the show. He reports, “When National Geographic called me to say that Frank [Valentini, executive producer] and GENERAL HOSPITAL were interested in doing this, you’d think that both of us had just won a brand-new car on THE PRICE IS RIGHT. We were both screaming, ‘Oh, my God!’  GENERAL HOSPITAL is such a household name, such an American institution. I was just delighted.”

The script called for Sartore to make some remarks at the opening of the Photo Ark exhibit. “A big part of what I do is to talk about endangered species and loss of habitat and ways that humans can turn the tide and save ourselves and the planet, so I’m used to public speaking,” he notes. “I didn’t really get nervous until I saw that they were moving through the script so quickly that they were coming up on my scene, where I had to be convincing and get my lines out! I’d never done that before; I’d never been in high school plays or anything like that.” Luckily, he had a support system with him: wife Kathy, who appears in the episode as an extra. After they got their hair and makeup done, “We went upstairs and saw that the whole universe was on one floor — there’s the jail, there’s the cobweb-filled dungeon, there’s the lobby, there’s the hospital room. And there was the Jerome Gallery with these prints. The exhibition was actually very well done! The pictures looked great and I tell you, the people in the cast and the crew were so kind. It felt like a family. The whole thing was just a really great life experience.”

He’s grateful to GH for putting a spotlight on his work. “Frank Valentini is an environmental hero to me,” he declares. “Everybody’s got to get aboard this boat and start rowing in the same direction if we want to try to save the planet, and being on GENERAL HOSPITAL is a huge deal because of that. The pictures have been projected on the side of the Vatican with the Pope watching, on the Empire State Building, but this is pretty special because this is [reaching] a totally different audience.”

Alas, he won’t get to watch his episode when it airs. “I’ll be in Costa Rica because they’ve identified a new species of small cat, and there’s only one in captivity and she’s not getting any younger, so I’ve got to get down there to photographer her,” he explains. “So I have a good excuse! It would be a lot more fun to be home watching GENERAL HOSPITAL.”

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