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Animal photojournalist Jo-Anne McArthur about the animals who live amongst us but who we fail to see

by | Dec 8, 2020 | They let Nature Talk

 Jo-Anne McArthur is a highly motivated, curious and action oriented Canadian photographer, author, sought-after speaker and proud founder and Executive Director of We Animals Media. Animal welfare, animal protection and veganism are guiding concepts in her life. For over twenty years she dedicates her entire career to animals who live amongst us, but who we fail to see.
In 2013 she was the primary subject in the documentary The Ghost in Our Machine which is in fact a plea for animal rights. Her first book We Animals was published in 2013 and her second book Captive was published in 2017. Her third and latest book HIDDEN has just been published in November 2020 and is now being distributed worldwide. For her photography and activism she received a range of commendations, including the 2018 Wildlife Photographer of the Year People’s Choice award and the 2019 Wildlife Photographer of the Year photojournalism award. The Canadian Broadcasting Corporation CBC nominated Jo-Anne as one of Canada’s Top 50 Champions of Change. All the more reason to get to know her a bit more.

From passion to mission

Jo-Anne is without a doubt a woman with a mission. In everything she does she puts the focus on our relation with the animals that are close to us, revealing the way we treat them in the food, fashion and entertainment industry, or how we use these animals for research. 

Red Fox in a fur farm, Canada, Jo-Anne McArthur
She has always been passionate about the wellbeing of animals. As a little girl she took the neighbors backyard dog for walks. In her teens she worked voluntarily at the local animal shelter. And in her twenties she realized that combining her skills as a photographer and her empathy for animals could help her transform her passion into her mission. In her early days as photographer she enjoyed covering weddings to earn her money, but for the last two decades it’s all about covering the way we consciously or unwittingly treat animals. Luckily Jo-Anne is a happy and positive thinking human being, which is very useful or even necessary when you see a lot of things that drains all your energy out.

 

Animal photojournalism

Jo-Anne is considered a representative of a new and emerging genre in photography called animal photojournalism. This form of photography has its roots in photojournalism and conflict photography, as she has to sneak around in order to get the footage she needs, gaining access where she is not always invited. There are reasons

why many animals are kept hidden away and she wants to uncover those reasons, being aware of the risks that comes with the job.

Animal photojournalism differs from wildlife and conservation photography. Although each of these genres convey the difficult circumstances animals live in, they differ in that wildlife and conservation photography focusses primarily on free animals living in the wild, while animal photojournalism gives visibility to animals that are related to people. Another difference is that wild animals in a zoo usually are a no-go for wildlife photographers, but form a starting point for animal photojournalists like Jo-Anne. One could say that where wildlife and conservation photography stops, animal photojournalism begins.

Where wildlife photography stops, animal photojournalism begins, 
Jo-Anne McArthur 
For Jo-Anne the goal of her photo work is to start a conversation, to debate about our interaction with animals. She considers her photos not to be the final product, for her the photos are the beginning of the discussion. And though she is a very talented and multi-awarded photographer, she is more concerned with changing the world than with art. At the same time she is very aware that she needs outstanding photos in order to get attention for her work. We – the audience – tend to look away when the hideous truth is unveiled so the photo must be great to get attention. This means the arty part is also important, for it is the art that makes people look.

Well composed and well lit images are key to have an impact. Jo-Anne’s preferred style, recognizable as her ‘signature’ in her photos, is approaching her subject as an investigator. Getting down and getting close with a wide angle lens, making sure both the animal as well as the construct it lives in is in the picture.

Getting down and getting close with a wide angle lens, Jo-Anne McArthur
Accomplishing a lasting impression

To make sure her work gets coverage she has published a lot of her work through her books. Her choice for publishing books is simple; a book makes a lasting impression compared to the volatile impact of photos on social media. On the other hand social media is necessary to pull attention to the book. So she is active on social media as well.

Her first book We Animals was a compilation of 15 years of work supplemented with a lot of text. The book illustrates and investigates animals in the human environment, and provides valuable lessons about our treatment of animals. 

Her second book Captive was a collaboration with the Born Free Foundation and showed us the animals whom we’ve placed in zoos and ourselves as the animals who look at them. The book invites us to reflect on how we observe or ignore one another through the bars, across the moat, or on either side of the glass. With this book Jo-Anne challenges our preconceptions about zoos and aquaria, animal welfare, and just what or who it is we think we see when we face the animal.

Reflect on how we observe one another on either side of the glass, 
Jo-Anne McArthur
The third book HIDDEN is an unflinching book of photography about our conflict with non-human animals around the globe. This book combines Jo-Anne’s work together with the work of forty award-winning photojournalists. The book exposes the invisible animals in our lives; those with whom we have a close relationship and yet fail to see. This book s a historical document, a memorial, and an indictment of what is and should never again be. Erik Hilaire, the assistant picture editor for environment and science for The Guardian, called HIDDEN a photojournalistic milestone.

For Jo-Anne, publishing her books is not meant to make a lot money. The profits are used to give away free copies of the books to people who can make a difference, like journalist and CEO’s. But free copies are also handed out to chefs, because what they serve can make a huge difference to animals suffering.

What chefs serve can make a huge difference to animals suffering, 
Jo-Anne McArthur

The We Animals Media organization

n 2019 Jo-Anne launched We Animals Media, the over-arching not-for-profit organization, to fulfill her heartfelt desire to bring visibility to hidden animals worldwide through compelling photography and film. Photographers, writers, filmmakers, staff and volunteers make up the organization. 

As part of We Animals Media, Jo-Anne together with her team build up the We Animals Archive, consisting of over 10.000 images and video of animal industries around the world. The We Animal Archive is a globally accessible stock site, asking fees for commercial use but sharing content free of charge for use by NGO’s and campaigners. By the end of 2021 the goal is to include the work of lots of other photographers with the same mission.

Another time consuming activity is the We Animals humane education program, set up to build bridges of compassion between people and animals through exciting and visually-rich story telling. It brings her as frontline speaker to schools, universities, colleges and clubs worldwide.

Building bridges of compassion through exciting story telling, Jo-Anne McArthur
Back to basics

Asked if she still has time to make some photos, she laughs and admits this is still important to her but there is not much time these days. Running We Animals Media takes up lots of time and energy. Being an activist and photographer at heart, she will, in time, go back to the basics (taking photos, writing, speaking) and let other people lead the organization, which is an exciting prospect to her. Let’s wait and see what the future brings her…

Hope in a burned plantation!, Jo-Anne McArthur

If you want to learn more about Jo-Anne, her passion and what she stands for, attend her performance on the Nature Talks Online Photo Festival!

Erik Ruiterman

Hi there! I am Erik Ruiterman. I love birds and photography so I am an enthusiastic nature photographer. I like writing as well so I am a blogger. And because there must be food on the table I also work as a consultant. Due to my training as a fashion photographer my view on 'natural beauty' has change for ever. You can find my portfolio on Nature in Stock. (https://www.natureinstock.com/search?s=ruiterman) My photo adventures often form the basis for my blogs in which I try to view the phenomenon of nature photography in a relative way. For me that is always with a wink and a nod. You can of course find my blogs on this site. But also on topic2.nl.

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