Photographer Jo-Anne McArthur masterfully crafts a narrative for each animal she features with her unique and unrivaled ability to connect with them and their stories of survival. Below is a brief interview she gave with NEAVS staff about what it was like shooting for the collaboration, being around rescued animals, and witnessing NEAVS-supported sanctuary efforts.
NEAVS: Your connection with the animals you photograph is obvious. How would you describe this connection and how does it make you feel?
Jo-Anne: The animals I photograph have been used and abused by humans. I have the utmost sympathy for them. It breaks my heart. But I also feel very humbled to be around them, and respectful of them. I'm a part of the species who has abused them and I don't expect any favors, just because I'm not one of the abusers. Perhaps they can sense that I revere them, which is why I get along with many animals so well.
Animals make me live in the present moment. Being around them is such a joy, as well as a reminder of their uniqueness, each from the rest. They are deeply-feeling beings and I have little idea of what they've been through and what they're thinking in that moment. They really do fill me with wonder. I'm in awe of how different we all are. We humans. The apes. The tiny monkeys. The alligators and the ravens and the beetles. Nature is a many-splendored thing and I wish we all felt that wonder, but we're so disconnected from nature and other animals. I imagine that if we could reconnect, we wouldn't possibly commit the crimes against them that we do. They deserve our reverence, our respect, and our protection.
NEAVS: What was your thought process after arriving at each sanctuary ? How do you plan (or not plan!) your day? What is most important to you to accomplish?
Jo-Anne: I arrive at each sanctuary with an open heart. I have so much admiration for sanctuary founders, and the staff and volunteers. Really, they deserve all the support that I can give them through my own work as a photojournalist. My visits to sanctuaries are never long enough, so I make the most out of every possible minute, which means long shooting days, which is great. I try to stay out of the way, document the work taking place, and the animals who live there, of course. I see these people as heroes, and so I try to capture that sentiment through the lens.
The animals have been through so much, so I try to respect their space and if they are curious about me and wanting to connect, then I definitely connect! There are a lot of animal pictures out there. Creating unique images can be difficult, so I try to sit and spend time with each of them, gain a bit of trust, be it through communications of playfulness, or whatever they need, and then document their personalities as best I can. If my images give the viewer a glimpse into the soul, and life, of one of the sanctuary animals ... if the images make you look once, then twice, and then again, then I've met some of the goals I set for the shoot.
NEAVS: What is it like being surrounded by rescued animals?
Jo-Anne: It's heaven. Not just for me, but for so many sanctuary visitors. Sanctuaries are a place of healing, not just for the animals but for humans as well, especially those who are really compassionate, and who rail against and grieve our treatment of animals. Sanctuaries give the billions of abuse animals worldwide a face. The animals are ambassadors, they are the lucky few. It's just wonderful to see them thriving, in the company of others of the same species, and it's wonderful to see them doing things that they like to do.
Animals in sanctuaries have many more choices than they do in, say, a lab. To watch them exercise those choices, be it playing in the sand with toys, climbing trees or lazing about in the sun, is to learn something of the individual, which in turn always strengthens my desire to help more and more individuals like those before me. They are a reminder that so many more need help right now.
NEAVS: How do you think your collaboration with NEAVS can help make a difference for animals in labs?
Jo-Anne: I think that great images are an important part of the equation when it comes to helping animals. Images can create an immediate connection, and reaction, in a viewer. Images can draw a person in. Not just the images but the stories, too. I've found in my work that combining a beautiful or moving photograph with a story of rescue, and what came before, truly moves people to look more closely at an issue.
NEAVS has helped support the rescue of countless animals. Their stories need to be told, and these stories illuminate the vital, crucial, life-giving work that NEAVS and the sanctuaries do. Both NEAVS and I want people to look at these issues, and not turn away, and collaborating on these efforts makes our work collectively stronger.