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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

This post has been updated from the original version.

For most of us, stumbling upon a video of an adorable animal is something we enjoy. However, what if you decided it was your duty to show the world the animals we don’t see? For 41-year old Torontonian Jo-Anne McArthur, this is precisely the case.

The photojournalist, author and educator has been travelling the world for 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 her youth.

“I was so curious about why we treat animals the way we do. Whether it’s a dog locked up in a backyard 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. Then I started photographing animals. I just started pursuing it and it became a career.”

But McArthur’s path toward showcasing the invisibles has been anything but linear.

In the beginning, her work with animals was done on a volunteer basis, with money from other photography work acting as her income.

She’s also faced health issues as a result of her profession. 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 photobook, We Animals (2013) received copious acclaim from activists and the general public. That same year, the award-winning documentary The Ghosts in Our Machine was released, featuring McArthur and her photography. And this past summer, McArthur released Captive, her second photobook, which challenges traditional ideas about zoos and aquaria.

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

Although McArthur has already accomplished a sizable amount with her photojournalism, 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”. 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

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 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

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