In this event, Jo-Anne McArthur, award-winning photojournalist and the founder of We Animals Media (WAM), outlines her work documenting the stories of animals used for food, fashion, entertainment, tradition and experimentation.
WAM is the world’s leading animal photojournalism agency, and it recently published HIDDEN: Animals in the Anthropocene, a major book featuring the work of 40 international photojournalists with a foreword by Academy Award-winning actor Joaquin Phoenix. HIDDEN documents our relationship with animals, exposing some of the billions of hidden animals in our lives: those we eat, wear, and use for entertainment, tradition, and experimentation. HIDDEN was named Photography Book of the Year by Pictures of the Year International, and awarded the Gold Medal for Outstanding Book of the Year – Most Likely to Save the Planet by Independent Publisher.
Like conflict photographers, animal photojournalists report on atrocities, largely hidden from public view, sometimes breaking laws to uncover violence, systematic abuse, and exploitation. In this event, we will explore how animal photojournalism works, the issues that arise from visualising atrocity, and assess the impact this reporting is having.
00:00:06 [music plays]
David Campbell: Welcome to this event on VII Insider with Jo-Anne McArthur to discuss animal photojournalism. It’s a pleasure to have you here, Jo-Anne. And you’re a photojournalist, you’re the founder of We Animals Media, you’ve produced three books, the most recent of which is this extraordinary volume HIDDEN: Animals in the Anthropocene, which is a remarkable publication. We’re going to discuss some some elements of that. Tell us a little bit more about your background in photography, your background in photojournalism and how you came to be focusing on the question of animals and animal rights.
Jo-Anne McArthur: Well, thank you for inviting me here, I’m really looking forward to this discussion. And I think it began because I just have this insatiable curiosity about the world and the camera is a really good way to satisfy that curiosity. It’s like an all access pass, in my view. Have camera will travel. Have camera, to have an excuse to you know, snoop around into the lives of others and get to know people and understand how things work and why we do the things we do. I’ve always been drawn to conflict photography, and drawn to those who have done it, I was super obsessed with Magnum, for example, all their photographers and what they did, and Larry Towell, who’s a Magnum photographer became one of my mentors. And I was talking with him one day going on about how I wanted to go to Afghanistan. And he said, Jo, that’s not really you. You know, what do you love most? What do you care most about in the world and focus on that, and he had a point. And one of the things that concerns me most in the world are animals, non human animals. And I had some thinking to do, because, you know, there’s a lot of wildlife photography out there and companion animal photography. But what about all these all these hidden animals? I started thinking about them, those we eat, and but you know, maybe this is where I pull up some images to to illustrate a little bit about who I’ve been photographing these last few decades.
David Campbell: Yeah, let’s look at those images and talk us through those. The ones that you’ve taken and the ones that are involved in We Animals Media, and you can talk about the organization as you go along too.
Jo-Anne McArthur: Okay, I’ve got about two dozen images here. I think maybe I’ll start with just the first 12 as illustrations of what I do and how I do it. You know, so when Larry suggested I turn my mind to what I care most about in the world. It was all of these invisible animals. And I started working with NGOs, because I, you know, didn’t know how to get into these industries, what to do, what it was like. So I called groups like Animal Equality, Djurrättsalliansen in Sweden, and said, Hey, can I go along with you on investigations? This is an image of what it’s like doing an investigation. We often get up in bio suits, and we go into factory farms. That’s what, this is an example of what they look like and what it’s like for us to investigate. People just don’t know that we keep billions of animals every single moment of every day in conditions like these. And this work, this is the same farm. In fact, these are the kind of images I was taking. You can see she, she has this flat beak. And it was that’s debeaking. That’s a common practice worldwide. So all these things that we don’t know about, I think we should know about and that’s that’s what conflict photographers do. That’s what photojournalists do is expose things that we care about, you know, things we want the world to know about therefore, effecting change, hopefully. And so yes…
David Campbell: When, when do those images date from and when did you start the transition into photographing animals as your primary concern?
Jo-Anne McArthur: Now we’re coming on 20 years now. I’ve been doing this. And, you know, that was early career for me and I wasn’t taking very good images. I was, I was at the beginning, so a lot of that work. Now I see you know, was practice work for the better images, which we see in in my books and my presentations for sure. The images that I tend to present to the public are images from the last 10 years or so. If I can help it, the main images I’ll show are from the last five years, you know, I like to, to show current, current work. This is an image from Luis Tato. He’s one of our contributors to the book Hidden, which you’ve mentioned. When We Animal photojournalists document animals, it’s, it’s not a portrait, it’s not a typical kind of portrait, it’s very much about our relationship, than the broken relationship between us and other animals. And so, you know, an image of this goose, for example, just on its own, wouldn’t cut it. But we want to show the domination, we want to see the caging and the constructs, the loss of autonomy, the suffering that these animals have. And this is just so important, because we have created this hierarchy of, of animals. Who’s important who’s not. It’s based on charisma, it’s based on which animals we know best, it’s based on which animals we use, and we don’t want to look at. So the animals we use, the domestic animals are often at the very bottom. So let’s hide them. And yet, as I said, they they live in the, in the billions worldwide and we do all sorts of things to them. This this cow is tethered by the back leg so that she can move very quickly. All these things that we don’t know about and so animal photojournalists go out to show how they’re transported, how they live, how they die. Another image of transport. Some animals have, domestic animals have dual use, they’re not just raised for meat or their products, but for their skins, their fur, their wool. Later on, when we look back to impact of images, I’ll I’ll reference this image again, because this is really important in animal photojournalism. We do want to have a short term and long term impact and with individuals, but also with governments with corporations. And so that’s why often APJs animal photojournalists, APJs for short, are, are working with NGOs. And working with campaigners. People often think that my organization, We Animals Media are campaigners, we certainly have opinions about animal rights, animal advocacy. But we’re not campaigners ourselves. We work with campaigns. And we also make all of our work available for free to anyone helping animals. What you’re seeing here is a fur farm, a mink farm, and the kits which are baby mink, are curled around the body of their deceased mother. We’re seeing these more unusual and difficult images more and more in the photo world. And in media, which I’m really happy about. Even a decade ago, it was much harder to publish images like this. Images of let’s see, you know, this kind of thing. They would say, Oh, you’re an activist. This is activist work. This is subjective work. This is unimportant work. These are just animals. But all of that dialogue is changing, which I’m really happy about. This image was one of the highly commended images in wildlife photographer of the year, just a couple of years ago. What you’re seeing is the rattlesnake roundup event in Texas, and it’s a weekend long event where hundreds of 1000s of snakes are killed on display. You can behead the animal you can skin them yourself, you can dip your hand in the blood and then do these, you know handprints on the wall, you can see that by the handwriting that a lot of these people are children. It’s absolutely fascinating. How do we normalize violence towards others. And yeah, so as I’ve been to over 60 countries now to document our relationship with animals, our uses and abuses. Some of these animals who are hidden are actually on display which I find fascinating. I’ve made a book about this called Captive. And it looks at our relationship with animals in zoos and aquaria.
And, and this was in collaboration with the Born Free foundations speaking of, you know, NGO collaborations and how important those are to us. But yeah, some of these animals, interestingly, are on display. But we fail to see them. We’re just, so, we’re there for our own reasons, we’re there for a day out, we’re there for entertainment. And some people say that being able to interact with animals in this way, while they’re on display, gets us to care about these animals. And I think that’s a really interesting discussion. I would love to have data on how many people see an animal in a zoo, and then go off to be an advocate for for wild animals. I think that what happens when we put animals on displays that that just further ingrains this idea that they’re ours, that we are allowed to take them out of the wild, we are allowed to breed them, we’re allowed to transfer them between zoos, we’re allowed to sell them. We’re allowed to kill them when they’re considered surplus and, and all these things. I might stop there, though. I have a few more images here of animals in entertainment. But we can maybe loop back into the images when we talk about HIDDEN a little bit more. This is an image from a target Aitor Garmendia. He’s an incredible animal photojournalist whose work has been in many competitions many times. He’s one of our HIDDEN contributors. And I’ll just, maybe one more. This is an image I shot at a bullfight. And it’s a great example of animals who are in plain view and in fact, at the center of things, and yet we fail to really consider them as individuals. We know that these bulls suffer tremendously in this slow death that they experience, including having their ears cut off at the end if the matador has done a good job and all this extreme violence, and yet we are ignoring extreme violence that’s right in front of us because we say, well, this is culture. Or this is about artistry of the matador. This is tradition. And I see it as my life’s work to change the conversation, change the dialogue, introduce new ideas, by introducing new images, new perspectives.
David Campbell: So you began as an individual, and you know, this work became your focus. When did it become a collective? When did you form an organization? When did you get other contributors? And how did that process come about?
Jo-Anne McArthur: Well, I would say that I was just out in the field shooting too much with images ending up on my hard drive. And I’m so passionate about going out to do these things, which is fine and good. You know, I was so sometimes spending up to eight months a year on the road, photographing animal stories, doing investigations. But ultimately, the reason I do this, because I want to create conversations, I want to reduce animal suffering globally. And that’s not going to happen if my images are on a hard drive. And while I was thinking about that, I was getting more and more support from people who believed in the work I was doing. I’ve had great advice along the way, like, you know, you should start a Patreon and, and get donations for this work. So that you don’t have to shoot weddings like I’ve shot over 500 weddings in order to pay for this documentary work. I did food photography and, and all sorts of things, which is great. But I really did want to focus all of my time on the animal work. So my friend Anna said, let’s start you a Patreon. And then instantly I had three or $4,000 a month coming in. Great, okay, like I can cover some my living expenses, I can do more the animal work full time. And in other conversations with people, I would say, you know, like I, I need to get these images out into the world and how best to do that. People would email me every week, NGOs, activist and say, Hey, I saw an image online of a bull run and I and I go into my hard drive and I like email it or we transfer it like totally laborious ridiculousness. And so we created an archive online, free keyword searchable by species or country where people could just download the images. But we weren’t tracking image use very, very well. So now we have built a world class stock site, which gives us a lot of data. It’s really user friendly. We have almost 12,000 images there from 45 contributors. It’s not just me anymore. It’s me and 44 of us, which is really exciting. And and we’re tracking data, we’re seeing what’s used what’s not used, we’re asking NGOs what do they need? So we’re we’re looking very closely at the animal advocacy movement, we’re looking very closely at what’s going on in the world with climate change, disasters, hurricanes, pollution, and where there are important issues and conversations, we’re doing our best to, to document those and to provide the media and to provide NGOs and advocates what they need for successful campaigns and strong conversations.
David Campbell: When you were, before you had an organization, and before you had more of a collective and you’re working individually, were you pitching stories to publications? Were you sending things to photo editors? And if so, what sort of response were you getting? And what sort of success rate were you getting? Having your work used?
Jo-Anne McArthur: It’s a good question, because I started out with his work because I was just so in love with photography and the photo world. But then the more I worked with animal advocates and campaigners, I got into that world. And I sort of forgot about the photography world for a while, which is interesting, because that’s what I was doing. But I saw myself as a photographer contributing to animal rights, but I was ignoring the photo competitions, I was ignoring, getting this work in front of influential people, like photographers. And so we actually came back to that, you know, I was off animal advocacy. And then we started the archive. I say we because, you know, we had staff because we had funding for staff. Then we built the stock agency. And at one point, I think it was last year, we’re like, Oh, I think we’re a photo agency. Like, we’re kind of, we’re kind of operating that way now. We, you know, we have contributors, we have contracts we give assignments. And did that answer your question? I think I went off on a tangent there a little bit.
David Campbell: Yeah. I was wondering if you had early reactions from from photo editors to these kinds of stories. When when you were just an individual before you had an organization?
Jo-Anne McArthur: Yeah, I was presenting so much as an animal activist during that time. And 10 years ago, it was also harder to publish these images anyway, broadly, for lots of reasons. But then we started getting taken more seriously when I’m, you know, take off the activist hat and put on like, the, you know, I’m a photographer just like all of you. I’m a photojournalist. I’m a conflict photographer, just like all of you. And you know, I guess a confluence of things happened recently, which opened the door in the photography world to images like this. The photography world, I think it’s inevitable. It was inevitable to acknowledge, like, these animals are important, just as elephants are important, just as rhinos are important. Yeah, so it’s an interesting time to be in animal photojournalism. We also coined, coined that genre, and I was very worried honestly, that there would be a lot of pushback from the photo world and they would say, like, you can’t you can’t coin a genre of photography, like who are you? You don’t have the right to do that. Like, I don’t know if he does have the right to do that. But I thought, you know, I do want to create an official space for this. Photojournalism is about the human condition. Animal photojournalism is about the condition of all living beings. It’s different from conservation photography, in that it includes all animals, the domestic animals. As we have seen for decades now in wildlife and conservation photography, it’s literally called wildlife photography, competitions, in their rules and regulations stipulate you cannot submit images of animals and zoos or domestic animals. It’s like, it’s driving me crazy, because their stories are really important. And so my work has been excluded, specifically, from the photo world for a while now. So we we wrote a short essay about animal photojournalism, that it’s inclusive that it overlaps with important issues of our day. Climate change, deforestation, deforestation, human rights even. And we’re really carving it out strategically, with our language, with the creation of this photo agency, which looks specifically to animal stories. And things are changing. doors are opening conversations are happening like here today. So thank you so much for that.
David Campbell: I thought it was interesting when you observed earlier that you when you were working individually, that you shot like 500 weddings, and that paid the bills while you were able then to do the work that you wanted to do. Because I think that’s a point really worth underscoring. I think that’s actually how certainly most people start and probably the majority carry on as individuals is that they fund the work they want to do indirectly. Historically, I think that’s been the case in photography. I know that there are lots of people who like I want to be paid for the work I’m passionate about. But that’s a challenge. So I think that’s a point worth underscoring from from how you began, but now you’ve transitioned to a place where you are able to support an organization and a group doing the work you want to do. Tell us a little bit about kind of the funding models and how you’ve achieved that. But particularly, particularly as, as I understand it, the images from the archive are available to use freely.
Jo-Anne McArthur: They are. Yeah, it’s been a whole process. Do you want me to continue sharing the screen? Yeah. As it is great. Yeah. Luckily, I, you know, I like being an entrepreneur, I like the hustle of photography, figuring things out, how to make a living doing it, which is why I had success, you know, in the earlier years of the wedding photography, and then all that stuff. And then, but yeah, we had to figure out okay, well, I want this work to be free. But I also want to get paid. Photographers need to get paid. And we need to stand by that. And so what model am I going to create? Well, people really appreciated the spirit of generosity with which we, we do everything that We Animals Media, ultimately, this work is to further conversations about animals, animals, are my priority. So we want NGOs who often can’t afford good images, strong images, or strong investigative work, we want them to have access to this stuff. But because people appreciate our spirit of generosity, they do donate, they may have $10 to offer, they may have $5,000 to offer. So our free archive does generate donations. In fact, it generates not only individual donations, but the NGOs who have a photo budget and can afford to support what we do. They do give generously because they do want to see this resource continue. We started applying for grants, private grants and public grants. Our main funder is the open philanthropy project. They also saw that what we were providing for campaigners, media, etc, worldwide was was very, very useful. Often, campaigners have just sort of subpar images, because they might have been shot with a hidden camera, or someone who’s not a professional photographer. And as we know, images go a long way in reaching people. And we saw that it was important for campaigners to have really, really strong images. Let’s get back to your question.
David Campbell: Well, just I think it’s really interesting to explain, given that the images are given away away freely, that you’re able to support, actually a very quite a large collective enterprise now. So there’s not a choice between free and paid in this case. But you’ve got to a position where free can help paid, that’s worth explaining a little bit more,
Jo-Anne McArthur: Thank you for, for putting that into words. That’s exactly what it is. Because grantors appreciate this model that we built, they want to support it. And so we now have funding to support our operation costs to support a NGO salary for myself and several others. We have 10, full and part time stuff now. And we have 45 photo contributors, as I mentioned, and the photographers who are, first of all those who shot for HIDDEN, we paid them for their images, which was exciting to be able to do. We want people to, to be able to get paid, and those who donated their work to our stock site, a lot of them are people with the same goals that we have, which is just get those images out there. And so if an NGO is downloading an image, non commercially, they get it for free. The photographer doesn’t get a cut, but they have agreed to that. And if it’s a commercial use, then the photographer gets a cut, out of a cut from that. So we’ve just started this and soon, like other agencies, photographers will be getting yearly checks. So it’s something and hopefully our revenues will increase. We sell prints, I get speaking fees. We have royalties from our books. So all of that generates some funding to keep this keep this thing moving. It’s, it can be stressful at times. You know, I had a vision for how we could strategically impact the conversation about animals globally. But I’m a photographer and you know, there’s still, for me, a very strong drive to not be running an organization, it’s to be out in the field, fulfilling that curiosity, which is what started me doing this work in the first place. But our team is amazing. Like the reason we’re being so strategic and getting ahead and making your mark and having that work used so very much is because we just have kick ass team who have, you know, who are wired very differently than than I am. They’re like, okay, every two years, we have an annual general meeting, we map out our goals, and then we work backwards theory of change. What do we need to do month by month? What do we need to build? What departments do we need to flush out in order to achieve our goals? It’s a lot of fun. And the people in our team are super organized and super passionate. And I think that’s why we’re having this success right now.
David Campbell: You have 45 contributors to the archive, is that correct? How did they come on board? Did they find you? Did you find them? They obviously share the same kind of social purpose and sense of mission that you’ve got, I imagine.
Jo-Anne McArthur: Yeah, it’s a good question. Because two answers to that. I watch very closely, what’s going on globally, with animal photographers, and what they’re doing. And when I find images that I like, and photographers who are doing interesting work, I just grabbed those images, whether it’s social media or websites, and I stick them in a file. And I had this growing file this passive growing file of photographers who I wanted to talk with, work with whose work I wanted to promote. And that was part of how our book HIDDEN was created. I wanted to create this, this memorable book of what is and what should never againbe and create a book because as we know, books, give work a certain weight and give the issues more longevity than they would otherwise have passing through social media. So I, part of part of my interest, and part of my work is to like look at what’s going on in APJ, globally. But also, people were emailing saying, Hey, how can I work with you? So we put online a contributor forum, click here, if you’d like to work with us. And we have lots of people filling out that form. We look at it every month, we reply to them, we evaluate, evaluate their work. And do we need to say thank you and check out our masterclass and keep working on your FPGA or do we want to say, oh my gosh, yes, like, get on board with us. Thanks for writing. We’ve had all sorts of people we’ve had New York Times, National Geographic photographers want to be contributors and who are now. We have people who are really new to photography and want to take part. So the whole system
David Campbell: You mentioned masterclass, there. Is education part of the kind of overall complex that you’ve got here and what role does it play? And what sort of education are you interested in?
Jo-Anne McArthur: Yes, like VII, we’re very interested in mentoring. I’ve always done that. Because I’ve always had an inbox full of people saying, how do you do what you do? How do you investigate? How do you cope? The same questions all the time. And so we decided to build a masterclass on APJ and is eight episodes. It’s two and a half hours self guided. And it answers those questions. And it follows me as I shoot. There’s an episode on editing, an episode on coping. And, you know, I was a little worried that this would not not be, not have the interest that I was hoping for, but it does. To date I think over, over 400 people have bought the masterclass and I’m really happy with that because you know, APJ is such a niche thing. You know, I didn’t know if we’d have 20 people buying it. I’m glad there’s 400 because we put an awful lot of work into making it beautiful and well thought out, well constructed. So that has taken the pressure off of me in terms of my day to day answering emails, answering questions. I can point people towards the masterclass. We’ll be launching portfolio reviews next year to help further people’s work. And we’re also launching our first Animals Media fellowship. So this is a paid fellowship. It’s about $6,500. US Canadian, and that helps further or complete an animal photojournalism project. So the applications for that opened on the 18th. Lots of, yeah, lots of exciting things there with with learning and education and I also offer humane education programs. So I’m in schools, speaking with a lot of young people talking about animal sentience and photography and getting people excited about caring about animals.
David Campbell: Do you think that, have you seen changes over the years in kind of the way people are shooting these images and stories in relationship to animal photojournalism? Would you identify particular styles or particular topics or particular, the ways those might have transformed?
Jo-Anne McArthur: I think the short answer to that is yes, I’m seeing a lot of change. Because APJ now does have a form, it has sort of a style. And as I said before, like what we used to see in animal advocacy work was just not very strong work. NGOs identified that they really needed professional good work to further their campaigns. And now that it has a forum, I’m seeing people on their websites and Instagrams call themselves an animal photojournalist, which really pleases me. We definitely see common threads throughout the work as it’s looking heavily at factory farming. And so you’re seeing investigative work often that takes place undercover takes place at night. I’m sure we’ll get to that, too. People are always very curious about how exactly I, I get images like like this. Industries do not welcome people like me who want to show the conditions in which we keep animals in which they live and die. Which is why we now have Ag Gag laws, which are agricultural gags, which make it very dangerous, even more dangerous for people like me to go on to farms. Whistleblowers can now be charged for whistleblowing, exorbitant fines, jail time. Here in Ontario, you can’t even go close to a truck carrying animals now. You certainly can’t photograph from the road inside of them. You can use huge fines for that. Yeah,
David Campbell: This is a law that has been obviously brought about as a result of agricultural interests, farmers, lobbies on the like.
Jo-Anne McArthur: Exactly. Exactly, exactly. And we’re seeing these laws eventually seen as unconstitutional and overturned, but it’s an absolute waste of resources. Drives me bonkers. I also understand that I’m one of the people, and other activists, who have you know, who are the reason that there are Ag Gag laws, because we go on to farms. It scares industry. It scares people like, you know, I wish I could. When I’m sneaking around at night, getting into these places. I really don’t like it. In fact, I absolutely hate it. It terrifies me as well. I’m not there like, oh, yeah, I’m coming into you know, terrorize terrorize you. And I’m going in there with absolute fear, for my personal safety, because I haven’t been jailed yet. But most of my investigator friends have. And some of them have been beaten up, like with baseball bats even. So I go in there, very afraid. But very determined, as well, to use that small amount of time that I have in a place, it could be 10 minutes, it could be five hours. But I have to work under this idea that like I might have just a few minutes to do a very good job in a short amount of time. So we go in, I don’t break in enter, I go through open doors, I climb fences and go through open doors and document things as they are, it’s also important to go in unannounced this way. Because if you get an invite, you might get shown 1/20 of the space that has been cleaned up. The animals have been given bedding, bodies have been removed from cages, whether it’s a pig or a mink, as you see here. So if you go in and announce you’re showing things as they really are, and it’s it’s quite shocking how long bodies are left in cages before they removed, infections from vaccine areas on pigs, and you know, all sorts of things. And that’s what we need to know.
David Campbell: So we have a couple of questions that were asking about how you work around those laws, I mean, you in part answer that. It seems to be that you work around them on the one hand by being covert. But on the other hand, you also you have this limit that you won’t break and enter. So there’s another sort of legal limit there as well. So there’s a covert space as a way that you operate in it. Would that be correct?
Jo-Anne McArthur: Yeah, but I can’t speak for all APJs. We all have our, our limits of what we will do and not do and perhaps some of them do amore formal breaking and entering. I I prefer not to just to mitigate, you know some of the risks and retribution and consequences. Ag Gag laws do slow me down for sure I would rather work where there are no Ag Gag laws. But I also work globally all the time. So trust me, there’s like plenty of places that I can go to and if I am working at Ag Gag province or state, I will just be exceptionally careful. But honestly, I, I always am exceptionally careful. If anything seems amiss, I just, I just won’t go in and take the risk. And we’ll do it another night. And it’s not me doing all this, this reconnaissance. It’s, it’s the investigators that I work with. So I’m really, really grateful for them, I wouldn’t be able to do this much work if I wasn’t working with activists and NGOs who have checked out a place and looked at where we can enter. It’s it’s never just me going in with a camera alone. We have people outside. We all have walkie talkies in our ears, we check in every 10 minutes. Is everything. Okay? We have an exit strategy. We have a getaway car, like in a Bond movie. I’m kidding. You know, making light of something that’s actually very, very serious. But yeah.
David Campbell: That is an important point. Because again, it’s a collective enterprise. You’re not going in as an individual, you’ve got backup. And you’ve thought about it, you’ve organized it, you’ve planned it, and so on, because it is high risk.
Jo-Anne McArthur: It is high risk. I’ll skip ahead to an image that I shot a few years ago. Oh, some examples of what it’s like. And then I’ll get to this image. Yeah, people often like wonder what does it look like to go into these places and do this work. So, this is me at the Turkish Bulgarian border, documenting animals being transported in extremes of heat, which is illegal but happens anyway. Some of my— yeah, sure.
David Campbell: This is, this is your investigator is that so you’re…? This is someone working with you? Because one of the questions from from Ted is about privacy issues, about showing people working, perhaps in these locations, and so on, whether it’s possible— what, you know, what happens if you capture an image with a worker in these locations? Are you able to show that image? Can it be used? Etc?
Jo-Anne McArthur: That’s a great question. For me, it’s very much—it’s not— it’s not about the individuals or outing an individual. And in fact, we get a ridiculous amount of vitriol towards workers. It drives us absolutely nuts and racist comments as well when we show workers. It’s not about the workers. The workers, for the most part don’t want to be they be there, they would prefer other jobs. It’s about exposing industries and practices. As much as I can, I get permission. I don’t go around with consent forms. As you know, as photojournalists, it just doesn’t doesn’t make sense. I do when I can. With the investigators, like in this picture, if they don’t want to be shown, if they want to remain concealed, that’s how I operate. I may get an image of their face, but I’ll either crop it out or not use the image. Such was the case with these investigators. So we don’t see who that is.
An image of me in the field. Oh, let me just actually get ahead to that image. Here we go.
Images of workers and information about access. So I talked about how I go in at night, by and large, but often as well, I rock up to a place unannounced and say I’m a photojournalist, people don’t know where their food comes from. People don’t even know like, there’s so much they don’t know. We interact with our food as ribs and not as a pig. It’s cellophane wrapped. We can’t even tell what body part it is. We call it veal when it’s in fact it’s a calf and and all of this. So, I’ve been invited into plenty of slaughterhouses. I’ve often I’ve also been turned away from many slaughterhouses. But when you go and you say hey, I really want to document this. I’ve been invited in. This was in Thailand. And the owner of the slaughterhouse said, he said Yeah, it’s very violent what happens here and people don’t know. I had a group of veterinary students here last week, and some of them vomited from witnessing meat production. And he said, Yeah, you can stay. I actually went back twice, and he allowed me to document the processes. He said, unfortunately, I couldn’t speak with the workers. We didn’t have common language. They were Vietnamese, Filipino, Cambodian. But, you know, it was very strange for them to have this white woman with a bunch of cameras. I mean, that never happens getting in. And like, there I was on my knees in front of, in front of this violence, wanting to, like not tell a story about you know, these individuals as bad because they’re not, they’re not. It’s about practices that we don’t know about. Yeah, and it’s different from country to country, sometimes it’s electrical stunning. Sometimes it’s electrical stunning in water, in a bath. Sometimes it’s clubbing, like this. And sometimes there’s no stunnining at all, it’s just directly the knife to the throat. Stunning practices also don’t usually work. They work some of the time, not all the time. So it just further, it’s just like, further traumatizes the animal before they’re killed. Like with clubbing a pig, it often doesn’t knock them out, it knocks them down. And that’s what you’re seeing here.
David Campbell: Yeah, maybe take us through some of these images from HIDDEN and talk a little bit about the book itself, how it came about. And what you see is the purpose of the book.
Jo-Anne McArthur: Thank you. So I’ll just scoot back here to that main page. HIDDEN was inspired by conflict, conflict photographers, and the books that they would make that memorialized what they were seeing, and it was James Nachtwey’s book Inferno, specifically, who, like when I saw that book, I, I knew that I wanted to do this for animals. And I knew that there was more work out there in the world that I could have ever possibly do, and that other APKs for doing it. Hence that file I mentioned earlier, where I was squirreling away images that were really strong that I had seen over the years. And I knew that I was going to invite a lot of photographers to contribute to this. And this is the inside page. We have an image by Britta Jaschinski. We have my co- author Keith Wilson, incredible human, incredible editor, just loved working with him. And he’s created several books. And foreword by Joaquin Phoenix, who’s an animal advocate and actor. I’m sorry for this graphic image. I guess. So funny that my tendency is to say sorry, and yet, that’s what I do. I show graphic images to the world. But it’s, I mean, it’s painful for me even now to look at this. So this image, the reason I’m showing you this image is because I spent a night at this wet market in Taiwan. And I had packed up my gear at this point. And we were leaving. And just as we were exiting, I saw this, took out my cameras again, with my videographer Kelly Guerin, and we filmed this process of cutting the, the shells off of the backs of these living animals. And you can see the turtle flailing and this was just happening over and over and over. And as we photographers do, we got close, and we stayed steady and got all sorts of images of this practice. And I got back to my hotel, five in the morning, so heavily traumatized by the amount of suffering I had seen in this wet market all night, and especially by these turtles. And you know, that book inspired by Inferno had been on the back of my mind. One of the ways that I cope with seeing all of this violence is taking action. And I was heavily traumatized that night and so I just wanted to think big about what I could do. I wanted to think beyond like what I could do with that night’s images and get them out on social media and whatnot. I was like, no, like, there’s so much work that needs to be done. And so I didn’t go to bed, I mapped out the entirety of this book. And the working title was Animals in the Anthropocene. And I mapped out a timeline and my, the dream people that I wanted to work with, which was Keith and David Griffin, who designed the book. And the work began. And the work began of reaching out to photographers looking at existing work, getting them to submit more work. And Keith and I went through 1000s upon 1000s of images, narrowing it down to the 208 images that we, that we landed on. For a strong…
David Campbell: It was this image which actually led to the book, actually.
Jo-Anne McArthur: Yes.
David Campbell: Yeah. And when you were editing the book, and so you end up with 208 images. I mean, let’s explore though the question of the use of graphic images a bit more, because this is, I think one of the important parallels here between conflict photography and animal photojournalism is you know, what’s the place of an exceptionally graphic image? On the one hand, you have to have them to record what’s taking place, because it is so graphic, that’s unavoidably graphic. But then it’s difficult to use sometimes in relationship to the audience, either in an exhibition or a book or whatever. How did you think that through in the editing of the book, how did you? How did you address this question of which, and how many graphic images to use?
Jo-Anne McArthur: Well, that’s one of the good things about creating your own book is that you get to call the shots. You don’t have to rely on the NGO use, you don’t have to rely on media saying yay or nay or someone exhibiting your work and, and curating. So we were the curators, and we know that there’s very little place in the world for images of violence, be it towards animals, or we human animals. Difficult stuff to publish. We know that you have to hand —do a certain amount of hand holding when you publish graphic images, either online or or wherever. I used to, when I started out in this work, I thought that people would be affected by graphic images, the way I was. Part of how I learned about animal issues and eventually stopped eating animals and becoming an activist was I saw graphic images. They stopped me in my tracks, and I decided I wanted to use that suffering that I was experiencing in relation to their suffering to, to be in service to others and to change my patterns and consumption and all this stuff. But that’s not how it works. Just because I work that way doesn’t mean others work that way. And so it was like, more work than I thought. I thought, Oh, I shouldn’t have to explain things, I shouldn’t have to smile, while I’m showing you these images of violence and tell you it’s okay. And like, you know, no, no, no. I’ve totally come around from that. And in fact, I really empathize with people who are facing the graphic images that I show— it is traumatic. And so I want to do as much hand holding as possible. And while I can’t personally do that, every time, I can give context. I can story tell. I can show the good and the bad. I can help people with the what’s next. So we do that in We Animals Media, we do share lots of stories of change and progress. We look at pioneering efforts in animal advocacy, be they about law, or running a sanctuary or neuroscience and yeah, showing, showing the, the positive. But…
David Campbell: It was interesting that you said that actually, this, if I heard correctly, there’s like pushback from the media, and maybe even NGOs about the use of graphic images. So you think that there’s not an appetite in the media and, and not an appetite in NGOs for graphic images.
Jo-Anne McArthur: Not, well, people are afraid of turning off their audiences we all are. And that’s a very real thing that happens all the time. There’s a thin line, a fine line. For me, the best images are those that are beautiful and poignant and make a point about animal use, but aren’t bloody and graphic. Perhaps like the one we have here. In fact, these are birds have just been unloaded from a truck. You can see one hanging, one living bird hanging there who’s first in line for slaughter. So this gives you gives you a sense of what the starting process is like at a slaughterhouse. It’s a beautiful image. It draws you in, it is also repulsive, but it is also beautiful. If the images, image went too far over into graphic, you’re much more likely to just have them turn the page or some you know, swipe away from the image. I enjoy thinking about that, that fine line I enjoy thinking about a narrative, be it in a photo essay or in a single image that will engage people and stop them from turning away. I mean, that is our our whole raison d’etre is to get people to look and to not turn away so I’m certainly not you know, I’m certainly going to be giving that a lot of thought.
David Campbell: Balanced with the need, or not balanced, because I don’t think balance the right idea here, but joined with the need to also occasionally show graphic images which, because, that is what is happening.
Jo-Anne McArthur: That is what is happening. That’s that is the reality and with HIDDEN we wanted a tome of a book, something unflinching that did look at the violence. Looking at the state of affairs, which is why it’s called Animals in the Anthropocene, the Anthropocene is the proposed name for the current geologic era, signifying basically total, human planetary domination.
David Campbell: Thinking about human planetary domination, we’ve got a question from Angela wondering if, because you’re talking about the, you know, structures and kind of complex organizations here. There are obviously theories of power involved and structural relations of power and so on. She wants to know, if feminist theories about hierarchical power relations between humans and animals, etc, either have influenced you or you think about those. Have they impacted on your activism and work at all?
Jo-Anne McArthur: Definitely thinking about power structures in general. We’re looking at speciesism here. First and foremost. We are looking at the powers that corporations and governments have. We’re looking at, you know, economies that want to produce as much cheap meat as possible, and keep that very fact of the production of cheap meat hidden from us, so that we continue to, to consume it. Yeah, there are all sorts of levels here it involves. Also, this is humanitarian work for me as well. The people who are going to inevitably be in these images, which are our factory workers, and slaughterhouse workers, as I said earlier, they are vilified. But that’s not in fact, what should be happening at all. People are often working in these industries, if they, you know, are suffering from poverty, can’t get other work. There are refugees. They’re un papered. So I would love for factory farms and slaughterhouses to not exist, also for the people involved in them. And yeah…
David Campbell: We had an earlier question that touches on that. It’s interesting that you say humanitarian work, because I think it was Liberia, if I pronounced that correctly, was wondering how the work of animal photojournalists touch on human rights issues? And it seems that maybe where you were, you talked about it as kind of a humanitarian dimension here. There are human rights issues in terms of who’s working in this agricultural complex.
Jo-Anne McArthur: Yep. Yes, there are. And I would love for We Animals to address that even more. That is our plan. We’re very interested in, in talking more with with factory workers. There’s a fantastic book by Gail Eisnitz and it’s called Slaughterhouse. And it’s a study, an investigation into who these people are, what it’s like for them, the short and long term effects on their mental health, the health of their families, the incidence of violence towards family members, domestic abuse, is higher in, with people who work in slaughterhouses, which is interesting. I have a lot of compassion for the people who work there. And I’d like to continue to, yeah, like broaden our look at that.
David Campbell: Should we talk a little bit more about the question of impact directly? Because you’re, you know, We Animals Media is a purpose driven organization. You described it earlier as an agency, but it’s also more than an agency, I think, as well. Do you want to elaborate on that a little bit? What sort of impact are you trying to have?
Jo-Anne McArthur: Shout out the team again, so grateful for their, their guidance and how mission oriented, the animals media team is. You know, I want to have a lot of impact that they make it happen. They give us a structure. So we have our annual general, annual general retreats. We look at our goals, we look at the impact we want to have and then we map it out. So everything is mapped out week per week, month per month. Of course there’s a leaf blower going now, isn’t that the case with Zoom calls? There’s always a lawn mower.I hope it’s not too distracting.
David Campbell: I think we’re okay. It’s just another another human—nature interaction taking place anyway. An unnatural one of that
Jo-Anne McArthur: The leaf blower. Oh my gosh, it kills me. And so we we mapped things out very strategically. We we look at where’s there— what is under reported? Can we go there? There’s a lot of, there’s not enough reporting on fish and fish sentience and fish farming practices and so we have some really huge stories coming out on that. We look at where we’d like to see more good and strong work coming out for campaigns in places where we’re not seeing a lot of that, like South America. We are very interested in what’s going on in Asia, collaborating with Asian organizations. So we look at geography, we look at the needs of NGOs, we look at their changing needs. So are they focusing on fish? Are they focusing on broiler chickens? What’s of interest to them, we approach them and introduce ourselves, let them know that they can use our work. We make friends with them. And we’ve done that over the years with lots and lots of NGOs. We collaborate with them on on stories and assignments. One example is one of my favorite groups called EAST, The Environment and Animal Society of Taiwan. They’re very effective. They, they take the work that they have, and they go straight to government. And they have really good public campaigns as well. And I was very interested in working with them. And we did. So I was in Taiwan for two or three weeks. And we documented a lot of different industries. And they took that work, and very carefully crafted campaigns about layer hens or about fish binding or wet markets. And we’ve seen, like my favorite kind of collaboration, which is We Animals Media, a strong NGO, and media partners as well. So in that case, we paired up with the Guardian, and they ran a few of those stories. And so we are seeing international coverage, we are seeing policy change, national conversations, and that’s what we want to do most of which means, which is great. I am, I’m not out shooting six months a year with the work ending up on the hard drive. I’m shooting way less, but with much more impact. And we we track impact as much as we can through who’s using our stock site. We stay in close contact with the NGOs. We want to know their numbers, how many people did they reach? What what has changed? What welfare laws have changed? What enforcement has happened? Yeah, lots going on there lots to manage. But we love it. I mean, we want we want proof, we want to know that we’re doing a good job. If we’re not, we’re going to change tack, we’re going to do different projects, we’re going to work with different NGOs. If we’re doing something good, we’re gonna, you know, follow that strategy and do more of the same thing.
David Campbell: So I mean, there are lots of metrics associated with with what people think of his impact in terms of reaching as an account with a certain number of followers or, or, you know, a certain number of emails being opened or whatever. But you also talked about changing the conversation and ultimately altering policy. Are they the ultimate impact goals, those two things, conversation and policy?
Jo-Anne McArthur: Yeah, those are, those are two very different things. I, I can’t say that the tactic is, is very different. Like we know, through socials and through word of mouth and campaigns, there’s going to be an ongoing trickle of influencing individuals. And we know that that’s happening because we have great response in terms of, you know, socials, emails, we get saying, you know, I didn’t know about this practice, I no longer eat pigs, or I’ve become vegan, or I’ve given up this. So we have the day to day input. We have our socials metrics. We have donors. So we have all sorts of donors from $5 a month to more people who have been affected by our work on a personal level. And that’s really important. We want that, we want to, you know, be part of the conversation and create conversations. But we also want to reach really high levels. We want this to start conversations in government. Policymakers, we want lawyers eyes on this, we want to influence more and more animal law. And we’re, we can only do so much that like work on our own, which is why it’s so important for us to to partner with campaigners, because they’re the ones who are working on on higher levels and yeah, influencing policy. So you know, it’s really fun. It’s a really fun puzzle to put together to see who we want to work with and where we want to put our efforts and it’s a truly it’s a constant conversation with us, like a weekly conversation and in We Animals Media, who do we want to talk with next? Who we want to form a partnership with?
David Campbell: Seems like the main kind of modus operandi for achieving impact is is to collaborate with others, would that be correct?
Jo-Anne McArthur: 100%. That is the first line in our We Animals Media website achievement page. We have a list of achievements and real world changes that we’ve affected. And the first line is, we achieved nothing alone.
1:00:20 David Campbell: Yeah, social change is a long and complex process that involves lots of actors working together. And you don’t know whether you’re going to get to that goal in the end, but you’re moving towards that, hopefully,
1:00:33 Jo-Anne McArthur: One step at a time. I think if I was looking long term all the time, and, you know, my wishes for Global Animal Liberation, of course, like if that was where my focus was, I would be disorganized and depressed because change, as you said, happens incrementally and painfully slow. Because I’m so aware as a front-liner, just how bad the suffering is every moment of every day. So I choose to focus on what we can do daily, being strategic. Thank you to my team for keeping us so organized. And being happy with that. Conflict photographers suffer from PTSD as we know, and we burn out because this field work and the suffering is incredibly painful and depressing. And so how to mitigate that is, is for me to focus on short term achievable goals.
David Campbell: So, as always, I’ve been bringing in some of the questions from q&a. So if anyone else in the audience wants to pose a question, please do so in the q&a. We’ve got time for for a couple more. There’s kind of a question and a comment from Ellie. And that’s about increasing attention on alternative food in place of so plant based food largely, as opposed to animal based food. Is that something that that you’re paying attention to as part of the overall issue? Are you doing stories on that are contributors doing stories on that?
Jo-Anne McArthur: I don’t know who asked the question. But it’s so funny that you’re asking because we, we love stories of change in progress, and we haven’t been doing enough of them. We have our Unbound project, which looks at the work of women animal advocates globally. We’ve been doing this for six years, we love that project. But starting next week, I am photographing five companies who are leaders in plant based alternatives, and cultivated meat. So I fly to California in a week. And, and I’ll be there shooting like these, these, these pioneering efforts and the plants that they’re that they’re working in. Some of these places look like breweries like with the fermentation that’s happening. And as we know, companies like Beyond and Impossible and Tofurkey, like Miyoko’s Cheese. These products that they’re making are becoming normalized, thank goodness, and they’re really delicious. And we need people eating more of them, and eating fewer animals so that we can, you know, change the amount of suffering happening in this world. So I’m gonna do a story. We have a media partner. It’s very exciting. Talk about that later. But I also have to keep in mind that a lot of people can do these stories. Like it doesn’t have to be We Animals Media, doing stories on plant based. A lot of photographers can do that. We do have to keep our main focus on the things that we are specialized at, like the investigative work. A lot of photographers can go into a place legally and take nice pictures, but so few of us are going into factory farms to continue to expose abuses. Industrial changes, for example, hen farms, you used to have like, you know, rows of hens and cages laying eggs. But now, these are like, as you saw in that first image, like these are towering places. Do you know for example, they have hog hotels, that’s what they call them in China now. And so they’re scaling up the pig industry vertically. We have pig factory firms now that are 12 stories high. And not a lot of people are gonna shoot that. And this comes back to conflict photography. There’s so few of us out on the field, photographing these these harder issues. So we will continue to keep our focus on that work. Yeah, while supporting change in progress. Yeah.
David Campbell: Just we had a question earlier about—are there— any thinking about how to work on these investigative stories? Do you have resources that can guide people on how to work and do these stories? Perhaps this is covered in the master class. Perhaps there are other resources. I don’t know. But are other resources available for people who are interested in getting into this work, but obviously doing it safely and properly?
Jo-Anne McArthur: Yeah, safety is paramount, especially if you want to be able to continue doing this work, and not burnout and not get injured. So this, this masterclass that we’ve produced, I don’t know that there’s any like it, specific to animal photojournalism. So that’s definitely a go to, it’s on our website, We Animals Media. And because I don’t have the bandwidth anymore to mentor people, personally, we’re going to, as I said, offer portfolio reviews. So come and show us your work. And while we’re doing a portfolio review, we can talk about what what the challenges are, what the constraints are. Something about me, though, is that I can’t, like it’s almost illegal for me to advise on on trespassing, and, and doing these, these more covert things. So I can talk about how I do it. But I can’t give advice. Like, I could get in a lot of trouble for saying, This is how you how you do that. Yeah.
David Campbell: We did also have a question earlier about, do you have a legal team at the nonprofit giving all these issues, I mean, you must encounter legal hurdles and challenges pretty regularly.
Jo-Anne McArthur: And so, on, on the ground level, before I go into a farm, and with a team, and they have a lawyer, often pro bono, thank you, who we can call if we get in trouble. And because when you get detained, you get all your stuff taken away from you, what we do is we what we write the name, no sorry, the number, the phone number of the lawyer on our arms, so that we can’t lose that. It’s a very important thing to do when you’re investigating. And it’s also very important to tell people where you’re going, and that you will check in at a certain time. And if they don’t hear from you that perhaps there’s something to be worried about. And then on a bigger scale, bird’s eye view, we do work with an incredible group called Animal Defense Partnership. And this is a group of lawyers who advise us on all things contractual, and, and legal and they’re a dream to work with them, they also offer their services pro bono.
David Campbell: Another example of how you have to collaborate with others in these sorts of these sorts of projects, you could not do these things alone without those sorts of additional services and support.
Jo-Anne McArthur: I can’t tell you how grateful I am to be surrounded by so much help. And so many people and groups are interested in furthering this really important issue.
David Campbell: So we’re coming towards the end of our time, Jo-Anne. It has been fantastic. We’ve covered a lot of issues, just two final questions that have come in. Can you say any more about the portfolio reviews, where they might be? And when are they taking place?
Jo-Anne McArthur: Thank you. We’re really excited to get those going. But that will be next year sometime. What we’re launching first is the fellowship. Let me pull up that slide. I have it here. The applications open on October 18. And this is funding for a project. And we will mentor that fellow along the way and help with all things access, promotion, editing. We really look forward to doing that. Hopefully, we will get more funding for the fellowships, we’ll be able to offer a two year instead of one. And the portfolio reviews. Once we get organized for that I’m thinking like, after you know, as of q3 of next year. I don’t know how many we’ll be able to do at a time. We’re in the process of mapping that out. I love editing, oh my gosh, I love looking at images and talking about images and improving images. And, you know, critiques are so fundamental to improving as any kind of photographer. As we know, it can be really painful. I’ve had edits where I’ve just felt like, you know, I’ve wanted to die afterwards. Because it was it was so grueling, but like those are fundamentally what have improved my work immensely. So I do encourage people to keep an eye out for that on our website.
David Campbell: And final practical question is if someone wants to become a contributor, who do they get in touch with at We Animals Media, and how do they get in touch with them?
Jo-Anne McArthur: Thanks for the question. Our website is there, weanimalsmedia.org. And you can click on work with us, which is actually on this screen as well as a drop down and you can click on volunteer or you can click on become part of our team and there’s a contributor form. Let us know who you are, where you work, what your interests are, whether you have images that you want to have on our stock site, or whether you’re interested in assignments or both. It’s all there.
David Campbell: Fantastic. All right. I think that brings us to the end of our time, Joanne has been absolutely fantastic. There are lots of, there are so many issues to think about in terms of approaches, photography, and storytelling. But I think what you have created is quite extraordinary. And there are lots of lessons for people to draw from that for doing work with a social purpose and how to achieve it collaboratively in particular. So thank you very much for that presentation. Thanks for your time. And thank you to everyone in the audience for participating in the questions.
Jo-Anne McArthur: As well. Thank you, David. Thanks for everyone who joined and if you have any questions for me just write to info at weanimalsmedia.org, and we’ll get to you. So thanks very much.
David Campbell: Thanks, Jo-Anne. Bye.