Review: At Close Range
I recently watched a profile of National Geographic photographer Joel Sartore called “At Close Range,” which had been sitting in my Netflix queue for months. I’m always interested in watching stories about how other photographers operate, and this one was pretty good (I think I gave it a 3-star ‘Kevin Liked It’ rating).
This was a PBS Home Video release, and pretty heavy on the National-Geographic-is-awesome theme (which I totally subscribe to), but I really enjoyed it. It’s not often that you get to connect a photographer’s face to the images that he/she makes, but I think that connection gives the images more meaning. Or maybe just a bit more humanity.
I remember many of his images from my years of subscribing to the magazine. Surprisingly one of the most memorable was an image Sartore shot of his own feet while on assignment in Alaska (check it out at the top of this post). If I remember correctly the image ran at the end of the magazine, the place where they show some of the hell that Geographic photographers go through to create such memorable images. In the image he has taken his shoes and socks off in the midst of the Alaskan wilderness and his feet are covered, COVERED, in mosquitoes. Pretty disgusting, but it sums up so perfectly what it must have been like to cover that assignment. Plus, it’s totally relatable. We all know what it’s like to be bitten by a nasty little mosquito, just maybe not on such a scale. I’ve spent a week canoeing the Boundary Waters on the US – Canada border, and the bugs were unbelievable … like you never knew there could be such a concentration of bitey little creatures, gnawing on every inch of exposed skin … bastards.
It all goes to show you that the creation of beautiful images takes passion, dedication and patience, especially when dealing with nature and wildlife. Sartore seems to possess these qualities yet remains humble when describing his own ability. “This picture is better than me,” he said while viewing one of his photographs of four teenage field workers. “Some photographers make images like this all the time, but I’ll never be that good.” Of course serendipity plays a role in every photographer’s portfolio, but you can’t deny Sartore’s talent.
It’s a good watch, especially if you’re a fan of the magazine. One thing I noticed, and something most people don’t think about while thumbing through the pages of the Geographic is the strain the job of working for a magazine like that places on a photographer’s family. The emotional strain on a wife left to run a household, raise children, and in this case, purchase a new home while her husband is away on assignment shows strength and a love that we should all hope for.
This hour-long documentary portrays these difficulties and triumphs succinctly, shedding insight on the process behind bringing such beautiful images to your mailbox every month.
Here’s a link if you want to read more about Joel Sartore and see some of his photographs.