|Occupation||Photojournalist, activist, author|
|Known for||We Animals project|
Jo-Anne McArthur (born December 23, 1976) is a Canadian photojournalist, humane educator, animal rights activist and author. She is known for her We Animals project, a photography project documenting human relationships with animals. Through the We Animals Humane Education program, McArthur offers presentations about human relationships with animals in educational and other environments, and through the We Animals Archive, she provides photographs and other media for those working to help animals. We Animals Media, meanwhile, is a media agency focussed on human/animal relationships.
McArthur was the primary subject of the 2013 documentary The Ghosts in Our Machine, directed by Liz Marshall, and with Keri Cronin, she is the founder of the Unbound Project, which aims to celebrate and recognize female animal activists. Her first book, We Animals, was published in 2013; her second, Captive, was published in 2017; and a third, Hidden, which featured a foreword by Joaquin Phoenix, was published in 2020. McArthur has been awarded a range of commendations for her photography and activism, including the 2018 Wildlife Photographer of the Year People's Choice award for a photo of Pikin, a lowland gorilla rescued from poachers by Ape Action Africa.
McArthur was raised in Ottawa, Ontario, and studied Geography and English at the University of Ottawa. She decided to pursue photography after taking an elective course on black-and-white photography at university. She originally entered photography motivated by artistry, but her motives subsequently changed, and she instead came to see her camera as her "tool for creating change". Her earlier work photographing animals was in the genre of street photography, but she now increasingly photographs captive animals, sometimes while undercover. In 2010, the trauma of her work led to her being diagnosed with post-traumatic stress disorder, though she has since recovered. Her photographs are sometimes published anonymously.
Her work has been published in a variety of media, including the newspaper The Guardian, the magazines National Geographic and Vice, and the news website National Observer. In addition, her photographs have been used by over 100 animal advocacy organizations and in academic work on human-animal relationships.
McArthur appeared in the top 50 of the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation Champions of Change contest, and on More's fourth annual "Fierce" list. She has also been awarded the Institute for Critical Animal Studies's 2014 Media Award, and the Toronto Vegetarian Association's 2013 Lisa Grill Compassion for Animals Award (with Liz Marshall). Farm Sanctuary awarded her the 2013 "Friend of Farm Animals" award, and listed her as one of their "Heroes of Compassion" in 2016.
In 2018, McArthur was awarded the Wildlife Photographer of the Year People's Choice award for a photograph of Pikin, a lowland gorilla rescued from poachers by Ape Action Africa, in the arms of Appolinaire Ndohoudou, a carer, while Pikin was being transported between two sanctuaries in Cameroon. The photograph was selected by voters from a shortlist of 24 chosen by the Natural History Museum. McArthur said that she was "so thankful that this image resonated with people", hoping that it might "inspire us all to care a little bit more about animals ... No act of compassion towards them is ever too small." She went on to win the Special Award of the Jury for the best single picture entry as a part of The Alfred Fried Photography Award 2018 for the same photograph. The jury were unanimous in their decision, and described the photograph by saying:
Jo-Anne McArthur firmly believes that animals are individuals and have feelings. And if proof were needed she supplied it with this magnificent picture full of tenderness. A moment when it transpires that animals too know a feeling of safety and comfort, are able and willing to trust and need affection. And that they recognize when it is offered to them.
In the 2019 Wildlife Photographer of the Year category, McArthur's photo "The Wall of Shame" was "highly commended" in the photojournalism category. The photo features the skins of rattlesnakes surrounded by the bloody handprints of people who had skinned a snake at a rattlesnake round-up in Sweetwater, Texas.
McArthur conceived of the We Animals project in around 1998 after an encounter with a macaque monkey chained to a windowsill in Ecuador. She photographed the monkey as she was appalled at the treatment, and "knew that the way [she] saw our treatment of animals was important, and [she] wanted to share that point of view". On its website, We Animals is described as:
an ambitious project which documents, through photography, animals in the human environment. Humans are as much animal as the sentient beings we use for food, clothing, research, experimentation, work, entertainment, slavery and companionship. With this as its premise, We Animals aims to break down the barriers that humans have built which allow us to treat non-human animals as objects and not as beings with moral significance. The objective is to photograph our interactions with animals in such a way that the viewer finds new significance in these ordinary, often unnoticed situations of use, abuse and sharing of spaces.
In December 2013, We Animals, a photobook by McArthur containing both text and over 100 of her photographs, was published by Lantern Books. The activist Bruce Friedrich, in a review published by The Huffington Post, described it as "the most gorgeous book [he had] experienced in many years", one which "offers haunting sadness, [but also] intense hope". In The Guardian in 2020, Ziya Tong selected the book as one of the best to widen readers' world views, writing that "McArthur brings an empathetic lens to the grim reality – mostly unchallenged – of millions of lives spent in captivity".
McArthur has spoken in educational institutions since 2008. In 2014, a grant was awarded to McArthur to develop the We Animals Humane Education project by The Pollination Project and the Thinking Vegan. Through the We Animals Humane Education Program, McArthur offers a variety of presentations in school, university and other environments. The program seeks to "foster awe, curiosity and critical thinking about our relationships with animals", to "instill reverence, respect and responsibility", inspire empathy with animals, to "create gentler stewards of the earth", and to encourage people to be "agents of positive change".
In 2017, McArthur launched the We Animals Archive, an archive of thousands of photographs and videos of animals in human-dominated environments. The Archive serves as a repository of media from the wider We Animals project that can be freely used by individuals and organizations working towards animal-protection goals. In 2019, We Animals Media – a media agency focused on stories of animal exploitation – was launched. McArthur is the founder and director, while other contributors include the journalist Corinne Benedict, the writer Kate Fowler, the photojournalist and filmmaker Aaron Gekoski, the filmmaker Alex Lockwood, the writer Anna Mackiewicz, the journalist Jessica Scott-Reid, the photographer and filmmaker Chris Showbridge, and the writer Sayara Thurston. Projects of We Animals Media include the We Animals Media Photography Masterclass with McArthur.
McArthur published a second book through Lantern, entitled Captive, in 2017. The book—which features contributions from the activist Virginia McKenna, the philosopher Lori Gruen, and Ron Kagan, of Detroit Zoo—focuses on the animals in zoos and aquaria. It also contains a series of short essays by McArthur. Stephen F. Eisenman reviewed the book for Animal Liberation Currents, comparing McArthur's photography with that of other zoo photographers and photographers of human prisons. He said that
McArthur's Captive is a powerful, visual survey of zoo animals and their physical conditions of captivity. But precisely because it examines so many different zoos and animals, its cannot provide significant insight either into the subjectivity of captive animals, or the ideological and economic function of zoological gardens. The merging of close and sustained photographic observation and detailed institutional history and critique is what is most lacking in the current generation of zoo books. That’s a worthwhile project for McArthur and her peers in the future.
McArthur's third book, Hidden: Animals in the Anthropocene, was about "our conflict with non-human animals around the globe, as depicted through the lenses of thirty award-winning photojournalists", with a foreword written by Joaquin Phoenix. It was released in 2020. Writing in The Guardian, Olivia Wilson described the book as shedding "light on industrial scale factory farms and slaughterhouses ... [revealing] in often bloody detail how little we know about what goes on within these windowless walls".
With Keri Cronin, an associate professor of art history at the Department of Visual Arts at Brock University, McArthur founded the Unbound Project, a multimedia and book project aiming "to recognize and celebrate women at the forefront of animal advocacy, in both a contemporary and historical context", and to "inspire our audience to do what they can to make the world a kinder, gentler place for all species". Contemporary women profiled include Anita Krajnc, Carol J. Adams, Hilda Kean, Wendy Valentine, Leah Garcés, Seba Johnson, Lek Chailert, Gladys Kalema-Zikusoka, Marianne Thieme, and Elisa Aaltola. Historical women profiled include Lizzy Lind af Hageby, Ruth Harrison, Elizabeth Stuart Phelps, Dorothy Brooke, Caroline Earle White, Louisa May Alcott, Anna Laetitia Barbauld, and Fanny Martin.
The Ghosts in Our Machine
McArthur was the "main human subject" of the 2013 documentary film The Ghosts in Our Machine, directed by Liz Marshall. The film avoids the shocking imagery of many documentaries focussed on animal rights, such as Earthlings, meaning that it "takes an almost arthouse approach, resulting in a film that's more a meditation on suffering and the relationship between humans and other species, than an angry, didactic diatribe". Writing in Variety, the critic Peter Debruge said that
It's enough to make you sad, not for the animals (to whom human cruelty is nothing new), but for McArthur, this beautiful young woman who feels so deeply for those not of her kind that she carries their collective suffering around with her daily. What must it be like to experience PTSD after visiting dairy farms and facilities that supply primates for medical testing?
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