Award Winning Photographer and Activist, Jo-Anne McArthur
When I had the privilege of hearing Jo-Anne McArther speak one year at the Voiceless Awards I was blown away. She encompassed a true sense of purpose, knowledge, compassion and humbleness - despite her list of many accomplishments. My husband and I looked to each other at the end of her speech and shared a moment of hope and inspiration. She had moved the entire room by sharing her message with raw courage and truth, just as she does, in the same manner, when she captures her photographic "invisible subjects" - the animals without a voice; those who we eat, we experiment on and are entertained by. Jo-Anne is the photo-journalist behind We Animals, an incredibly powerful and invaluable resource to us all, through which Jo-Anne documents animals whom are enslaved or have been freed from enslavement, as well as the activists who help with this, and shares these images and the stories that go with them to countless organisations, magazines, campaigns and, she makes them freely accessible to you and me for us to share. We Animals has been going for fifteen years and Jo-Anne works tirelessly (well, perhaps a more correct term is dertermindley) and she does this because she deeply believes the need for us to change the way we are treating animals and the need for rapid change in the way we eat, for our planet. She is the author of two books We Animals (2014), and Captive (2017) and in 2017, and there is the award-winning documentary Ghosts In Our Machine that follows her work.
When I spoke to Jo-Anne she was getting ready to fly out for yet another international extreme undercover investigation with a well-known animal rights group, where she would be responsible for documenting the horrors that are occurring behind closed doors - the images the companies don't want us to see. But Jo-Anne does this work because she believes we must. She believes by showing people the truth of what happens, that is how people can make changes, because they see and they learn. When I ask her how she started WeAnimals she said, "I realised I could combine my two passions. It was the perfect way I could combine my career of photo-journalism and my concern for the "invisible animals" - the ones we have a very close relationship with but we fail to see...once I started seeing these animals I couldn't unsee them. There are billions and billions of them suffering needlessly and they need people to speak up for them. I know good images are absolutely essential in engaging audiences... "
Jo-Anne has managed to capture thousands of images that speak to us - that move us - with enough depth to capture our interest, yet in a way that doesn't force us to turn away. An incredible balance. "There is a need to show each number is not just a number, but an animal with feelings. In my photographs, I try to show the large numbers as well as the individuals,"
"I ask a lot of the audience when they look at the images because they can painful to look at but I also try to capture images that give us hope."
Her balance of showing the darker images with also the understanding that hope breeds hope is why she started her most recent project, Unbound, where she is interviewing and photographing woman on the front line of animal advocacy around the globe for a book and multimedia purposes, "because I want people to see that things can be done and there are different ways to get involved."
"Far too often people believe that they do not have enough time, money, or expertise to get involved in animal advocacy. Many of us also misunderstand what it means to be an “activist.” Unbound aims to challenge those notions, and to demonstrate through these inspiring examples how we all can make a difference for the animals with whom we share this planet."
I encourage you to spend some time reading some of these woman's stories, here are examples but there are many, because as Jo-Anne says, there are many ways in which we can help, we just have to find what way is right for us.
With the incredible work load Jo-Anne has - which is unfortunately due to the incredible amount of animal welfare disasters we have throughout institutions today, I wanted to know if Jo-Anne felt the impact of being someone who understands sentient beings have feelings, and then having to be around these tortuous situations for long hours for work. "When we work in these conditions and are witness to the suffering, there are consequences. Of course. Sometimes with my health, or stress levels. Sometimes it can feel overwhelming. Now I concentrate on what I can do and the people around me doing amazing things. It's important to connect with people who share our views and can support us."
"The hardest part is leaving."
We talk about the need to take care of ourselves if we are going to be able to care for others - including the animals. She recommends Pattrice Jones’ book, Aftershock: Confronting Trauma in a Violent World. A Guide for Activists and their Allies saying it "helped me with my advocacy work and I believe everyone should read it."
I asked if she has felt a particular animal she was moved by, or a issue she is really passionate about, Jo-Anne shared, "To claim I care about a cow more than a pig, or any other animal wouldn't make sense. I feel all animals deserve the right to fulfil their instincts and be free of suffering, not one more than the other."
We Animals provides such a service with their photographs, we can support Jo-Annes work by donating some of our money. If you don't know what to do when you realise what is going on behind closed doors to animals - I promise you this is a good way to start! Jo-Anne makes the invisible life of suffering of animals in entertainment, science and food production visable. When we can see what is truely going on, then we can become empowered to take stand and action. But only when we know...
"In her book 'Regarding the Suffering of Others,' Susan Sontag proposes that: "Perhaps the only people with the right to look at images of suffering of this extreme order are those who could do something to alleviate it." In the case of animal suffering, that's all of us. Animal suffering – on factory farms, in research labs, or in ever-shrinking wild habitats – is caused by us. We have a duty to see its effects and to do something to alleviate that suffering." - Jo
I encourage you to listen to Jo-Anne speak - because she has that ability to inspire through her... for the first time I thought I really should catch up with 2018 and do a podcast! Obviously I am still old-school writing, but you can catch her in so many recordings - one I loved is here.