So when you’re making your list of books you want to read this year, be sure to include Jo-Anne McArthur’s We Animals. Drawn from many photos taken over 15 years, We Animals illustrates and investigates animals in the human environment: whether they’re being used for food, fashion and entertainment, or research, or are being rescued to spend their remaining years in sanctuaries.
The images in this book are truly riveting, and a must-see. Jo-Anne captures poignant moments in a way that creates an emotional experience for the reader. Her images and accompanying text, really make the reader take a hard look at one’s own interaction with animals, and see the world of animals differently. I recently had the pleasure of asking Jo-Anne a few questions about her book. Here’s what she had to say…
What do you hope your readers will come away with?
The book asks of the reader to not just look, but to see, and to not turn away. Most of the animals in our lives are invisible to us. We see a hamburger or a leather jacket but not the cow who had a personality and a will to live. We walk by walls on our way to work, and we don’t see the slaughterhouse behind those walls where 6000 pigs a day are killed. We see the elephant performing at the circus amidst the bright lights and loud music and fan fare, but we don’t see her behind the scenes, bored and chained by her legs.
A lot of the images are tragic, but they share a truth about how animals live. These truths are compelling. I hope that readers will be inspired to be part of making the world a kinder place for them.
We Animals really exposes the reader to a variety of situations or scenarios involving different species of animals. How do you decide what locations, scenarios, animals to photograph?
I wanted the project to be broad in scope. It’s a good thing I’m a natural born traveler! For over a decade now, I’ve been drawn to documenting stories about our treatment of animals around the globe. The book shares stories about bear bile farming in Laos to anti-poaching groups in Uganda to factory farming in Australia and so on. Animal abuse is global and we can help raise awareness and create change no matter where we are. The stories in We Animals not only share the bad, but the good, notably in the penultimate chapter called “Mercy.” Honestly I wish this chapter could have been the biggest! There is so much inspiring work being done to help animals and it’s important to focus on this, on change, on how we can all help.
Luckily, I didn’t have to edit a decade’s worth of work in one swoop. I’ve been narrowing the images down for a long time now and each story has its own section in the We Animals website. My editor (Martin Rowe of Lantern Books) and the designers (The Goggles) laboured over final edits and text.
With all the animals you encounter, it must be hard not to rescue a few. Have you ever rescued an animal while shooting photos?
I’ve documented plenty of open rescues, confiscations and seizures of animals. Some of those images are in the book. I wish I could take all the animals but that is, of course, an impossibility. I’ve met hundreds of thousands of animals at this point. I did remove a rabbit from a dumpster recently. Factory farms always have dumpsters nearby, full of dead animals. This was a rabbit farm and the dumpster was full of white rabbits in plastic bags. As we filmed, I saw that one of the rabbits was wiggling his nose; still breathing. I took him. He would have suffocated. He was suffocating. The last chapter of the book is called Notes From the Field, which is a small compilation of journal entries written during investigative work. I go into that story, about the rabbit, in some detail, and a photo of him in the dumpster is included. We named him Garu.
Besides We Animals, what other projects have you been involved with?
Three and a half years ago Canadian film maker Liz Marshall asked me if I would take part in her next film about animal rights and animal sentience. She made The Ghosts in Our Machine which, wonderfully, has become a highly acclaimed and award-winning documentary, which will continue to screen throughout the USA in 2014. It’s been wonderful to be part of such a big project and have We Animals photos, and my mission as an animal rights photojournalist, featured in the film. I was also able to contribute to Karol Orzechowski’s film Maximum Tolerated Dose, which looks at modern animal experimentation. As long as We Animals exists, I’ll continue to collaborate with film makers and animal-related organizations. We elevate each others’ work, the goal of which is to have the greatest possible impact on the lives of animals – on making the world a kinder place for animals.