He "gets them" in animal collections. Almost entirely institutional collections, if I recall correctly.
From what I remember the goal is to photograph every species of animal that is housed in captivity in zoos or collections. He collaborates with zoos and other institutions to photograph the animals they have, doubt that too many places are going to turn him down.
Honestly, I prefer his photos from the field rather than these portraits of captive wildlife he's been doing for ages now. I think I remember reading an interview where he said he wanted to spend more time at home with his family rather than in field on assignment, and this project allowed him to do that and continue to photograph wildlife and make an impact.
I was lucky enough to get invited to a kind of ritzy TNC evening event where Sartore was the guest of honor, and he showed a bunch of pics. Honestly, it was one of the most affecting things I've ever seen. I mean it was just incredibly painful, I pretty much had to run out afterwards, and gulp some cold, quiet nighttime air in the parking lot. I was having a really rough patch at work, thinking about canning the whole thing, just OVER IT. Going to this presentation helped me stiffen my resolve to, well, just keep eating the shit you get served in this outrageously difficult endeavor of preventing extinctions. It makes you sick sometimes, this is a high-burnout deal.
Before the show, he talked quite a bit about his approach - why, how, where etc. He was pretty systematic once he began it, but also really thoughtful on the front end, before he began. Yeah, home life was part
of it - he'd already had a long career as a gypsy photographer, and realized that gypsy thing was a single person's lifestyle - not that of a responsible father and husband. But he also described "doing the math" - how many species, how many & which zoos in how many & which countries, how many separate plane trips of x duration, how many years left in his life etc - and he came to see that backgrounds and sets and all that was going to cost him a lot of time - was going to prevent his reaching his goal of documenting every available species
. Many of these species are not charismatic - he does insects, mollusks, crustaceans, everything. Sometimes he can get a couple of critters done in just a few hours. But many individual species can still take a whole day. There can be a lot of care needed, to keep the subjects and the people safe and comfortable.
Before he began the project, he also pondered his fairly unique penetration into people's homes as a NatGeo guy, and saw the potential to do something really, I dunno, effective and maybe game-changing. He wanted to raise these animals in people's awareness. And a key part of his tactics is to strip away anything - everything - that could possibly distract from the animal itself. Hence the uber-plain backgrounds. It's a simple-message case of "Oh my God, can't you see what a precious and unique being this is - how could we even imagine
ending its very existence?"
Anyway, "God of wildlife photography" is kind of silly. But he's definitely a hero in wildlife conservation.