In preparation for the special screening of The Ghosts In Our Machine in Vancouver on August 2, The Association for the Protection of Fur-Bearing Animals interviewed Ghosts central human subject, photographer Jo-Anne McArthur. Her photographs can be seen in animal rights campaigns around the world. Her first photo book is soon hitting shelves soon after a massively successful crowd funding campaign. But Jo-Anne McArthur considers herself a photographer only after a list of other titles.
“It’s funny how life goes,” Jo-Anne said in an interview with the Fur-Bearer Defenders. “I started out figuring I would be a photographer and now I’m an animal rights activist, a storyteller and a humane educator. Photography, even though it’s the most visual form of what I do, is not as important as all the work going on for animals around that photography.”
Jo-Anne attended post-secondary schooling with a focus in English and Geography – like many others, she wasn’t entirely sure what she wanted to do.
“I always had a love for photography,” she said. “I took an elective course on black and white printing, and on day one of that course I knew it was what I wanted to do for the rest of my life. With guidance from some great mentors, I realized I could do what was the most meaningful project to me by combining my two loves: photography and working for animals.”
But before developing skill as a photojournalist, a love for animals is what set Jo-Anne McArthur apart from traditional views.
“I went to zoos when I was younger, but what I saw in front of me was humiliation,” she explained. “Not just of the animals, but of us, because we weren’t learning anything from seeing these animals behind bars and they weren’t getting anything from it either. I realized I had a different perspective on animals in captivity.
“Another situation was in 1998 when I was backpacking in Ecuador. There was a monkey tied to a windowsill who was trained to pick the pockets of passersby,” she said. “He was chained, but he’d lean out and go through people’s jackets. They thought it was funny and were taking pictures of this little thief monkey. I was taking pictures because I thought it was awful and sad. It was an eye-opening moment for me. I thought that the way I saw the situation was important and it was worth continuing to document these stories in this kind of way.”
At home, Jo-Anne began seeking out local stories – the strange ways companion animals were treated and meat markets. From this evolved her We Animals project.
“I got heavier and heavier into investigative work over the last bunch of years,” Jo-Anne said. “The photos from We Animals started getting really visible through campaigns and online use; the project started becoming a go-to in the [animal rights] cause that a lot of people could use.”
It was We Animals that was catching the eye of a casual friend, filmmaker Liz Marshall.
“Liz was taking notice,” Jo-Anne added. “She’d been watching We Animals and she knew she wanted her next film to be about animals. She asked if I would like to be the central human subject… I said, ‘sure,’ and away we went. Here we are, three years later with a really beautiful film and a lot of good and change happening.”
Since the film’s release at HotDOCS in Toronto, it has taken Canada by storm. Plans are underway for an American launch.
Despite the successes, Jo-Anne was reticent to comment on how it may have affected the country.
“I think it’s too early to say,” she explained. “I know people are really enthusiastic to have an animal rights film that is ‘main stream,’ something they can show their family. What I really think will be useful about this film is that it turns the lens inward to the viewer, and it doesn’t provide all the answers. It makes you ask questions, and you have to go reflect, and that’s what we need people to do. We need people to confront animal suffering and confront our role in it – it’s happening because of us. I think the film will have, and has had, definite success with that.”
Ghosts In Our Machine
August 2, 3 & 7 & 8