03 November, 2006

Working for the National Geographic, Part I

Setting up the camera with a remote trigger
by a Jabiru Stork’s nest 60 feet up high!

(photo: Joel Sartore - Joel Sartore Photography)

Three years ago this week, my last field trip with the National Geographic for the Pantanal story, for which I worked in several stages, was getting to an end. Doubtlessly this job became a cornerstone in my professional career and my personal life – that’s when I decided to put photography in first place on my list of priorities.

During some 4 months (besides several weeks spent on pre-production), in 2003, I traveled all over the Pantanal working as a field assistant and guide for photographer Joel Sartore, author of the images that illustrate the article. Those were extremely busy and sometimes tense days, but at the same time (as always) very rewarding. The list of funny and absurd stories might deserve a blog of its own, maybe some day I’ll dedicate myself to it...

It includes from walking in a river full of sting rays, piranhas and caimans to place the remote camera at the best angle, to the unusual strike of an anaconda who missed us by a few inches, when we were in waist-high water. Or the plane in which I had to push a button on the outside of the cabin so that the flaps would work. Or the day when we got stuck with Vavá’s (great driver and friend!) pickup truck late in the afternoon, and after walking a couple of miles in a swamp carrying cases with film rolls and gear, ended up spending the night at a ranch’s stable, lying down on horse blankets that had been intensively used the morning before. Or the time when I had to be hauled into town by plane due to a mysterious health problem, which not even the doctor was able to diagnose – at the end it was just a botfly’s maggot in my scalp...

We also had the “swamp cam” (a fancy name that we chose just to impress people, according to Sartore), probably one of the best stories: it was placed in the middle of the swamp, about an inch above the water surface. One morning a catfish got tangled in the camouflaged cloth that involved the equipment, and a wood stork came after it. The bird kept on persistently pulling the cloth until the camera sunk in the mud, while we watched the whole scene through the remote wireless monitor, 100 yards away. What followed was surreal. We were in the middle of the Pantanal, with our feet in the same water where the “swamp cam” had dived, using our satellite phone to call the Nat Geo technicians in the US and ask what we should do: “Shall we let the film dry or keep it wet?”. “Can it be recovered? Shall we ship them to you right away or try to get it processed immediately at the nearest photo lab?”. “The camera is not a problem, we have many others, but this roll of film has some killer shots!”. Since no one knew the exact answer, the solution was easy: call Fuji Japan directly and ask! The answer was that we had to keep the film moist and ship it to the USA ASAP, so that we had to set up a real rescue operation, rushing to Cuiabá (the nearest capital) in time to find FedEx’s office open.

Next Episode (coming soon): "The Day When a Caiman Bit a Hole Through our Underwater Housing's Glass Dome"

Go behind the scenes with Joel Sartore On Assignment!
Read More: parts of the story and some photos in Portuguese, English, Spanish, Italian, Japanese, Dutch, Turkish or Hungarian!

Joel Sartore and Daniel De Granville leaving for
another hard working day in the Pantanal

(photo: Andre Thuronyi - Araras Eco Lodge)

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