In the Blog

Jo-Anne McArthur on photographing “the invisibles”

May 7th, 2018     by Elle Côté     Comments

Lina Lind Christensen Holding A Rescued Hen At Frie Vinger Sanctuary In Denmark. CREDIT: Jo-Anne McArthur / We Animals

For most of us, stumbling upon a video of a puppy or kitten is something we enjoy. However, what if you decided it was your duty to show the world the animals we don’t normally see? For 40-year old Torontonian Jo-Anne McArthur, this is precisely the case.

The photojournalist, author, and educator has been travelling the world for almost two decades to capture what she calls “the invisibles”; animals we may not consider on a regular basis.

McArthur says our treatment of animals has been on her mind since a young age.

“I was just so curious about why we treat animals the way we do. Whether it’s a dog locked up in a backyard, dead squirrels on the road or animals in zoos. It’s a concern for animals, and I’ve had that since I was a wee child.”

Once McArthur reached her post-secondary education, studying Geography and English at the University of Ottawa, she gradually pieced together the career she holds today.

“I took a black and white printing course and was like, ‘This is what I’m doing for the rest of my life’. I shot all sorts of things for a while, looking for what would suit me best. Then I started photographing animals. I just started pursuing it and it became a career.”

McArthur’s mission to showcase “the invisibles” hasn’t been easy. In the beginning, her photography involving animals was done on a volunteer basis, with money from other photography work acting as her income. McArthur has also faced health issues related to her current work. In 2010, she was diagnosed with post-traumatic stress disorder.

“I was treated for PTSD and some mild forms of depression as result of this work, but I’m good now. I’m not saying it’s easy, but it doesn’t serve [anyone] if I burn out. Then I’m no good to the animals.”

McArthur’s first book, We Animals (2013) received critical acclaim from activists and the general public. That same year, the award-winning documentary The Ghosts in Our Machine was released, which features McArthur and her work.

Sleeping lion in a small cage at a roadside zoo in Canada. CREDIT: Jo-Anne McArthur / Zoocheck

Although McArthur has already accomplished a tremendous amount, she continues to create new projects to engage as many people as she can.

“I saw [what I’m doing for animals] as a necessity. I’m on this quest to reach the largest number of people, because, again, it’s all about helping animals. You can always use your skills to make the world a better place.”

With her latest project, Unbound, McArthur is showcasing the women “on the frontlines of animal advocacy” from around the world. She hopes this project in particular will uplift people, as she realizes some of her photography can be difficult to contend with. However, she emphasizes her intention is not to create guilt, but rather, inspiration.

Susan Morris, Founder Of Snooters Sanctuary. CREDIT: Jo-Anne McArthur / We Animals

“I do realize that I’m asking a lot of my audience. I’m asking them to confront terrible cruelty and to confront our complicity in the cruelty. It’s a lot. You do have to provide people with what they can do. That’s what Unbound is. It’s solutions journalism.”

No matter where her work may take her next, McArthur is consistent with her objective.

“My goal is to meet people where they’re at. I’m not someone who goes around saying ‘Go vegan’. I champion all the changes people make. When you champion people, they feel empowered, they feel more open to information. And it kind of just goes on from there.”

To learn more about Jo-Anne McArthur and her work, visit We Animals.

Tags: activist report

« Shameless Podcast Camp: Meet Game to Glory

Announcing Issue 37: The Do It Yourself, Do It Together Revolution Issue »