In the course of a decade and a half as a photojournalist, I’ve met hundreds of thousands of animals. Some were only in passing and others I’ve gotten to know over many years. I’ve encountered animals who endure and have endured unimaginable pain and suffering, and others fortunate enough to be cared for by loving and dedicated human companions. I’ve been into the heart of industrial farming facilities and medical testing labs that have been constructed to wring as much profit for as little expenditure—of effort, tenderness or money—from the animals whose lives begin and end there. But I’ve also found refuge with people and organizations who bring devotion, affection and resources to nurture and heal those who were broken and discarded. I’ve seen complete indifference and heartrending compassion, misguided ignorance and deliberate torture. I’ve found myself in a world of bars and metal and stench and despair, and a world of space and earth and fresh air and hope.
We Animals and the project of the same name that birthed it are my attempts to honour the remarkable individuals, both human and nonhuman, whom I’ve met along the way. This book, a sampling of a hundred photographs from the thousands I’ve taken for the project, is my addition to the library of works that educate people about the extent and intensity of the ongoing war human beings are waging against our animal kin. It endeavours to break down the mental and physical barriers we’ve built that allow us to treat our fellow creatures as objects and not as sentient beings.
What you see on these pages may surprise or disturb you. My aim is not to turn you away but to draw you in, bring you closer, make you a participant. I want my photographs to be beautiful and evocative as well as truthful and compelling. I hope you’ll take the time not just not just to look but to see — if only as a mark of respect for the billions of animals whose lives and deaths we don’t notice. To look at this book is to bear witness with me, which means also that we confront cruelty and our complicity in it. As a species we have to learn new behaviours and attitudes and unlearn the old ones.
I’ve always loved animals. When I was a child, my parents allowed me to keep budgerigars. I couldn’t stand them being in a cage, so when I was at home I was allowed to let them fly around the bathroom and I’d sit on the counter and watch. To this day, my rescued budgies fly wherever they want in my home office. When I was eight or nine years old, I used to walk the neighbours’ dog, a Shepherd/Rottweiler mix named Duke who lived in their backyard; ten years later I became a volunteer dog walker at the Ottawa Humane Society. As I grew older, I began to notice that what was amusing or entertaining to most people—animals being taught to beg and perform tricks, for instance—seemed merely sad to me, a poor reflection on us and our inability to see these creatures as autonomous beings. Yet I continued to eat meat, visit zoos, and use animals in the ways that most of us do.
My passion for animals was matched by an intense interest in photographs. My father owned a Minolta camera with a fifty-millimetre lens, with which he took the majority of our family photographs. I’d pore over and memorize our albums of summer holidays and Christmastime, and when I entered my teens, I “borrowed” his Minolta. This fascination with photographs became a passion for photography. As an undergraduate at the University of Ottawa, I had the opportunity to take Photography 101 as an elective. The moment I saw my black-and white images emerge from the pool of chemicals under the red lights of the dark room, I knew that I wanted to make this kind of magic for the rest of my life. I finished my degree (in English and Geography), but did all I could to pursue my interest in photography. I found mentors, took on internships, assisted other photographers, and spent every available minute I could in the dark room.
BEFORE YOU GO
Photos From "We Animals" By Jo-Anne McArthur