Animal Photojournalism and the Domestic Side of Conservation with Jo-Anne McArthur
Conservation photography isn't always about saving wildlife. Jo-Anne McArthur and her agency, We Animals Media, bring the focus on the plights of domestic animals.
Jo-Anne McArthur is the winner of this year's BigPicture Natural World Photography Competition with her beautiful image of a mother kangaroo with a joey in her pocket standing in the midst of a burned eucalyptus plantation.
It's something that when you look at it, you can't help but start to put together a puzzle pieces of how we as humans impact the natural environment and how we impact the species that live on this planet alongside us.
But… often we think of only the wild animals we effect, such as that kangaroo family. Jo-Anne, however, brings attention to all animals.
Jo-Anne McArthur opens the door to a much larger conversation about everything photographers can to advance animal rights. Her agency, We Animals Media, works with collaborators and partner photographers and creates imagery that opens eyes to the cruelty that we as humans inflict on other species.
There's a lot inside of this episode that you can take and utilize in your own practice as a conservation visual storyteller. You will walk away with tools that will help you in that journey.
- how Jo-Anne documents such traumatic situations
- how she works with other photographers
- who is using this imagery on a global basis
- coping mechanisms and trauma
- hope and optimism and laws and more
Episode 081: Animal Photojournalism and the Domestic Side of Conservation with Jo-Anne McArthur
(Digitally transcribed, please forgive any typos)
0:00:01.1 Jaymi Heimbuch: A few episodes ago, we talked about the BigPicture Natural World Photography Competition, and we dug into a bunch of details about the competition, but one of the things we couldn't dig into is who this year's grand prize winner was, 'cause the information wasn't public yet. Well, that grand prize winner is Jo-Anne McArthur.
0:00:21.7 JH: She created this beautiful image of a mother kangaroo with a joey in her pocket standing in the midst of a burned eucalyptus plantation. It's something that when you look at it, you can't help but start to put together a puzzle pieces of how we as humans impact the natural environment and how we impact the species that live on this planet alongside us.
0:00:46.9 JH: Well, Jo-Anne McArthur is here today, and yes, we do talk a bit about that image, but ultimately it opens the door to a much larger conversation about everything that Jo-Anne is doing to advance animal rights through her photography, in particular her media agency, We Animals Media. This is a photography agency that works with collaborators and partner photographers and creates imagery that opens eyes to a lot of the cruelty that we as humans inflict on other species.
0:01:23.5 JH: So inside of this conversation, we talk about how Jo-Anne documents such traumatic situations, how she works with other photographers, who is using this imagery on a global basis. We talk about coping mechanisms and trauma, we talk about hope and optimism and laws. We dig into so much. And I know that there's gonna be a lot inside of this episode that you can take and utilize in your own practice as a conservation visual storyteller.
0:01:55.4 JH: I do wanna give a heads up that we do talk a bit about animal cruelty and some of what's said could potentially be triggering. We don't go into detail or anything, but we do touch on a few subjects that might be a little bit tough to handle, so just a heads up about that.
0:02:12.0 Jo-Anne McArthur: But it is well worth the listen, because what you can walk away with in terms of tools that help strengthen you as a photographer, especially a photographer who may be in a situation to document difficult stories, you will walk away with things that will help you in that journey. Alright, let's dive in.
0:02:34.9 JH: Welcome to Impact: The Conservation Photography Podcast. I'm your host, Jaymi Heimbuch. And if you are a visual storyteller with a love for all things wild, then you're in the right place. From conservation to creativity, from business to marketing, and everything in between, this podcast is for you, the conservation visual storyteller who is ready to make an impact. Let's dive in.
0:03:05.4 JH: Jo-Anne, it is such an honor to have you on Impact: The Conservation Photography Podcast. Thank you so much for being here with us.
0:03:11.9 JM: Oh, I'm so happy to be here. There's so much to talk about.
0:03:14.6 JH: There is, and you were very kind of quietly without naming names, talked about in a previous episode when we were talking about the BigPicture competition, and so I'm excited to dig into that and basically everything about your photography, which is, there's so much to dig into, it's gonna be such a rich conversation, so I appreciate you being here. But for anyone who doesn't know you yet, who is Jo-Anne McArthur?
0:03:39.9 JM: Well, I am someone who cares a lot about animals and photography and changing the world, making an impact. It was over 20 years ago that I started thinking about animals in a different way, looking at our uses and abuses of them, and from that came the We Animals project, and over two decades of world travel, over 60 countries, several books.
0:04:09.3 JM: My project, We Animals, has now become a photo agency called We Animals Media, and we are dedicated to animal photojournalism, which I'm sure we'll get into because that's a really cool new genre that a lot of people are discussing now. So how is that? Is that... That's the short version. [chuckle]
0:04:27.0 JH: That is a fantastic in a nutshell, because there's so many avenues for us to travel down with that. We Animals Media, I can't wait to dig into more of the origin of that and how it's shaped up, because it's such an in-depth resource and something that I think that not a lot of people expect to find until they're really looking for it.
0:04:48.8 JH: So before we dig into that, I want to ask you a little bit about your experience in photographing the winning image that is the grand prize winner for the BigPicture Photo Competition. This image is... I'm actually gonna pull it up on my screen in front of me, it is this really stunning, weirdly calm image.
0:05:10.4 JH: And I say "weirdly calm" because there's so much chaos happening that you can read into it, but it is of a kangaroo and her joey in her pouch, with a burnt forest around it. Can you tell us a little bit about this moment inside of this image and how you captured it?
0:05:28.4 JM: I like that you describe this image as a moment, because that's what an image is, it's a moment captured in time, and yet this seems to even go further, doesn't it?
0:05:39.3 JH: It does.
0:05:41.7 JM: Because you can see that this moving animal has stopped and is looking into the lens, and I find that in my work when an animal is looking into my lens, they're looking out at all of us and asking us questions with those eyes, "Who are you?" And often in my work, "What have you done?"
0:06:04.6 JM: And you see this mother with her joey in her pouch, and this is during and during the aftermath as well of the cataclysmic fires in Australia, early 2020. And here she is, emblematic, an animal that's emblematic of Australia, of that country, in a burned eucalyptus plantation. It's not even a forest, it's a plantation, which are of course of our own doing, and the fires are a result of some of the effects that we have on the environment with climate change.
0:06:36.3 JM: And so here she is standing in the ashes of her home, and she's looking at us. An estimated three billion animals died in those fires, and yet here she is, a messenger of hope in a way. Not that she would choose to be a messenger to us of any kind, but these are the ideas that we imbue in others and in pictures. And she's looking at us and is an accusatory.
0:07:03.7 JM: What is it exactly? What are we infusing into that image? And I really appreciate that BigPicture selected this image, because it is quite emblematic of the times, and those who are affected beyond humanity, of how we're treating the environment.
0:07:22.1 JH: You've definitely thought a lot about the extent of the meaning of this image, and it feels like an image that you can really grasp a lot of these threads right away, and it sends you immediately into a thought spiral about, what are we doing, what is the extent to what we are doing, how much can we alter our own behavior to undo things.
0:07:49.5 JH: What are some of the conversations been that you've had since winning this competition and bringing so many eyes to this image, what are some of the threads that other people are chasing down alongside you as you talk about responses and reactions to this image?
0:08:02.5 JM: I think that to confront this image and the animals in the images to confront ourselves. Broadly speaking, that's what my work does. There's a lot of work out there about wild animals and companion animals, but not as much about the hidden animals, as I call them. They are the animals we have a close relationship with, but we don't really see.
0:08:28.7 JM: I do want the image of a wild animal to filter down into a broader conversation about how we're treating all animals. So we see this kangaroo in her burned home, and she's looking at us, and I mentioned a moment ago how animals are always looking at me. So that translates to hen in a battery cage, or a pig in a gestation crate, and they are all looking at me with those questions. And with this relationship we have with other animals, we always have the answers and they always have the questions. That's what I find over and over.
0:09:01.4 JM: And I'm really glad that this image is a winning image now, because it brings attention to all of the work that I do, and it brings attention to We Animals Media, which covers largely all of these other animals who deserve to be seen just as this kangaroo deserves to be seen and deserves to be considered.
0:09:22.3 JH: That's really well said. I think as conservation photographers, so often we, our brains head toward the science side and the wildlife side and the habitat and ecosystem side, and we forget how much conservation action can be had when it comes to domesticated animals, when it comes to our use and abuse of them. Is that... Did you start out more on the wild animal side and lead toward the domestic animal? Or what was your path in focusing in on domesticated animals?
0:09:53.5 JM: There's so much there, I feel like.
0:09:58.4 JM: 30 seconds ago, I want to just hone in on what you were saying there. No, I didn't start with wild animals, I started with a concern for all animals. And that's something that I had as a child, I was worried about dogs that were tied up, I was worried about animals in the zoos who look bored.
0:10:17.1 JM: I'm really happy that I get to live a life that allows me to tell those stories from my point of view. I think that a lot of us look at animals without really seeing the situation that they're in. We are so used to seeing animals as something, not so someone. As someone for our use, for our entertainment, for our plate. I always saw it differently.
0:10:44.7 JM: I'm glad that We Animals has grown into something so large, because I want the work that I'm doing to be strategic, I want it to be effective. I want to extend these stories to all animals, not just those that we're already comfortable seeing. It's easier to care about elephants, these beautiful charismatic animals, it's easier to care about our companion animals.
0:11:11.3 JM: Yeah, but it's so interesting, the field of ethology is really teaching us about animal behaviors and their sentience and their complex sentience. Pigs and chickens and fish are really wonderfully complex, just like elephants and dogs and cats are, and the more we know about that, that can go hand-in-hand with the message that I'm putting out into the world.
0:11:36.2 JM: Which is not what anyone really wants to look at, because it's horrific. As we know when we start to look at our uses of animals, it's absolutely horrific, whether it's the lethargic animal in a zoo taken away from their family, transported and all that they go through. Or the pig in the crate. Maybe I'll stop there. [chuckle] I'd probably just keep going and going.
0:11:55.6 JH: I wanna talk about what We Animals Media is and to dig into that. But before we do, you nodded quite a bit when I said, "As conservation photographers, we head down the wildlife path and the science and the research and ecosystems, and we don't often think about conservation work that we do with domesticated animals."
0:12:13.4 JH: And you nodded, you look like you wanted to dig into that. What are your thoughts around that? Around conservation, animal and wildlife conservation, really close to home, even when it comes to our own kitchen ingredients?
0:12:26.3 JM: I really appreciate you bringing us back to that. You're right, I was nodding. I went to Australia originally to photograph the effects of the bush fires on domesticated animals, because they just weren't getting a say. People care much more about the koalas and the kangaroos than they do about the cattle in a field who are also getting burned, terrible injuries, hundreds of thousands of these animals were buried in mass graves because they died as a result of the fires.
0:12:56.2 JM: So that is why I went. Even though I ended up winning for the kangaroo image, it was all the animals there being affected, who were important to me. And I was also nodding about conservation photography, because it's really cool to see more and more conservation photographers expanding their sites and including lots of other animals as well.
0:13:17.8 JM: We see that conservation is not a narrow thing, and if we want to, for using simplistic terms, save the world, we have to look at factory farming as well. That's a big focus of my work, it's industrial farming. I care about that because of everyone who's locked inside and suffering, but I also care about it because we are creating a tremendous amount of pollution and that affects the wild animals, that affects us in our health.
0:13:47.2 JM: And there are lots of reasons to turn all of our lenses, conservation lenses, photo journalistic lenses, towards these issues. Because as we know as photographers, seeing is one part of the puzzle when it comes to creating change, and so we are seeing a lot of conservation people delving into looking at industrial farming and topics they haven't covered otherwise, so I'm really, really excited about that.
0:14:13.4 JH: Awesome. Well, and you've created such an inspiring resource, which is We Animals Media. What is We Animals Media?
0:14:20.5 JM: You know, we didn't even know until we had practically built it. Because I was always very project-driven, "Oh, this looks good, this looks good, let's do a bunch of projects," and I started getting funding, donations and grants for those projects. And then I had staff and then we were doing projects and building this way in that way, but it wasn't cohesive.
0:14:44.8 JM: I also wanted to make sure that all of this work wasn't sitting on my hard drives where it's useless, and I wanted it out in the world. So we created the We Animals Archive, which is a resource over 10,000 images and video, people can use them to help their campaigning, their policy work, media people, anyone can use this resource.
0:15:06.3 JM: And so we were a bunch of moving parts, and it was only last year when we were in a meeting, just continuing to put it all together that we realized, "Oh, this could be and kind of is a photo agency. We just hadn't realized it." We were giving assignments, we were bringing in contributors, we had a lot of people writing to us saying, "Hey, how can I work with you?" And we just had this "aha" moment, "Okay, we're a photo agency and we can behave that way. We can build it that way."
0:15:31.2 JM: We give assignments, we have contributors, we have a stock site. And everything feeds our strategy, which is getting these stories out as far as possible, therefore helping as many campaigners as possible, therefore helping as many animals as possible.
0:15:45.1 JH: Wonderful. For something that started out as, "We didn't know what it was until we built it," you gave a very concise summary of what We Animals Media is. Did it start as your own very personal project and just continue to expand? Or how did it really start as part of you and your work?
0:16:06.5 JM: Well, you know, as photographers, we just have this insatiable desire to be out learning. We're very curious people, and when we latch on to something that we care about or an idea, we are driven to be out in the field to document. And that's what happens to me. The more I learned about animal issues, our relationship with animals, the cruelty inflicted on them, the violence, and I saw how under-reported it was, I just hit the road.
0:16:37.6 JM: For a long time, I was traveling six to eight months a year to shoot, whether it was bear bile farming or pig farming in Sweden, or duck farming in Australia, all of these stories that I felt so urgently about. Which is, conservationists feel that way and war photographers feel that way as well, "These things are urgent. The suffering is happening. Let's tell that story."
0:17:05.6 JM: So I was operating that way for a very long time, but the work was ending up just too much on the hard drive, and I was so intent on being out in the field that the work was not having the impact that I wanted. A lot of us are guilty of that. We really like being in the field, but we don't like some of the follow-up work.
0:17:22.9 JM: But the follow-up work is really the most important part. The taking of an image is the beginning of the story in some ways. Now you have this fantastic image, it can say something if you can educate people. Well, what's next? It's literally sitting at your computer day in and day out.
0:17:45.1 JM: Doing the PR, doing nice edits, getting rejected here and there because people don't wanna hear what you're talking about. It's that hard work, and that's why not my path. But the way I do things now is really strategy-driven. Which goes totally against how I wanna do things, 'cause I'm still that person who just wants to be out on the field, but moreso I wanna be effective. And that's why we have a team. We have communications, we have fundraising. And so there's a staff of about 14 of us now at We Animals Media.
0:18:19.6 JH: That's amazing.
0:18:21.9 JM: Yeah. And that doesn't include the photographers and the contributors that we have on the stock site. We have, I think about 30 photographers, maybe 35 photographers whose work is all on We Animals Media now. Which is just wonderful, people really wanna have their work there and they have the same spirit of generosity that we do, which is knowing if their work is out on a site that it will be used and it'll help create the change that they wanna see as well.
0:18:45.8 JH: Absolutely. So you're dealing in a topic and you're dealing with subject matter that as you kind of said before, it's hard to get in front of people, it's hard to get people to wanna look. Because it is difficult to see, it requires us to question a lot of things. What has been your experience in the types of imagery that can be effective that people will look at?
0:19:11.1 JH: What has your experience been in some other rejections you've gotten because it's so difficult to see some of the stories that you're reporting on? How do you get people to look at something so emotionally troublesome in so many ways?
0:19:23.3 JM: Well, you have landed on the biggest question that we have to ask ourselves every day, in how we're putting out images and where and why, and what are the repercussions. Images, the most graphic images that I photograph up close of animals being slaughtered, that's really difficult. That's the most difficult. So where do we use those?
0:19:46.3 JM: Well, I think context is very important, and a certain amount of storytelling and hand-holding, and not putting out images of violence gratuitously. And that's the temptation for us because it is such an urgent thing. To witness someone losing their life in such a violent way, I just wanna take this picture and scream about it and hold it up to everyone and say, "Look at this. Imagine being in their place. Be empathetic, be compassionate."
0:20:18.4 JM: But we aren't built to react that way in the way that I would want people to react, because it's very challenging. This is a whole long story. It's challenging because it challenges the fundamentals of how we live. It challenges us. If we look at an image of someone else suffering, well, we know we're the cause of that. So what does that say about us?
0:20:43.3 JM: We all believe ourselves to be good and kind of people, which we are, so it's really confronting to think, "Oh man, I didn't realize that I was... If I'm eating animals, I'm the cause of this violence." And so we will do just about anything to shut that down and make excuses and have all the "if ands" and "whats and buts" ready. Because it's so confronting.
0:21:07.2 JM: We also have a relationship with suffering that stops us from looking at the suffering of others. So when we... Let's say we look at an image of slaughter that causes us to suffer. Again, we wanna shut that down because we don't seem to know that suffering can galvanize us and cause us to think critically and to help others.
0:21:31.0 JM: Suffering is inevitable, and I think broader sense in a bigger picture sense, if we could also slowly eventually learn to change our relationship to suffering, we would be more open to it and more open to the conversations that it creates.
0:21:43.4 JH: That's really well said. It makes me think a lot about some of the reckoning that we need to do just as human beings, not only to animals that are in our lives and animals that are in distant places that we impact, but also people who are in our lives and people who are distant who we impact.
0:22:02.0 JH: The idea that a lot of the lack of empathy that we feel for any species, human or otherwise, even plants, comes from that difficulty of sitting inside of discomfort and suffering and grief, and allowing ourselves to feel what we know others are feeling and then making decisions on that. And you're right, we don't want to. It's really difficult and hard.
0:22:27.3 JH: It seems like there's a lot of that stilted progress because we as a species don't want to sit inside of that, it's a really difficult thing to do. How do you as a photographer, as the storyteller, open yourself up to that again and again and again and again, and keep doing this work? How do you not completely burn out or have an emotional breakdown?
0:22:53.9 JM: Yeah. Well, practice, first of all, is the short answer. And learning to have a safe relationship with empathy, with my empathy. I think we could all learn to do that. Because if we stay too long in that empathy for someone who's hurting, it can be really, really draining. And I did get drained and I did get depressed, and I was diagnosed with PTSD, which I have therapy for, because I was living too much in the sorrow of others.
0:23:30.5 JM: And I get it, and a lot of us do that. I was really in the beginning, immersed in it without having the tools to cope. Over time, I learned to have healthy barriers. Not the kind of barriers where you stuff down your emotions and get sick from it, but understanding that I need to be as energetic as possible and preserve that.
0:23:53.4 JM: I wanna have a joyful life, I just have this one short life, I wanna enjoy it, I don't want to suffer. So I go to suffering, I document suffering. I am fully aware every hour of the day that it is ongoing. But I don't live there intellectually or in my heart. What I have worked on doing over time, I guess, is just choosing every day to...
0:24:19.7 JM: Choosing to every day do the best that I can for animals, and sometimes that's a little bit and sometimes that's a lot, and being okay with that. And not living in the emergency that is unfolding of every minute of every day. It took practice, and I really feel for the people who look at my work and the work of others as well. It is painful.
0:24:40.3 JM: But we can all do something with that suffering. The pain that we feel when we see the suffering of others, we can make decisions that help and that create change. There's so much we can do. I love that you can see images of a puppy mill and decide to adopt a dog next time, or foster a cat instead of buying an animal.
0:25:02.8 JM: We can eat fewer animals, we can eat no animals. We can choose to use cosmetics that are not tested on animals. There's just so many wonderful ways of helping curb our treatment of all of these others. So I'm optimistic that my work will be a part of that change. But there's so many venues... Not venues. There are so many avenues for change these days as well.
0:25:27.1 JM: And I won't go on about that too much, but I will say that I'm particularly excited about animal law and what's going on with policy and politics worldwide. I'm excited about food tech and all the plant-based initiatives and cultivated meats, so I'll leave it at that, but I do think that there's cause for hope.
0:25:47.3 JH: I don't wanna leave it at just that.
0:25:48.1 JM: Oh.
0:25:48.7 JH: I do wanna get into some of that with you, because in conservation photography and filmmaking, visual storytelling, we talk so much about these difficult, long, uphill battles that sometimes seem like they are never ending, or we never... It's a sisyphean task to try and get laws pass or protections put in place, to get people to change behavior in order to stop destroying an ecosystem. Or to change palm oil plantations for the benefit of orangutans, or whatever it may be.
0:26:21.9 JH: And those seem, even to me as I'm sitting here, and this is just my own personal perspective, maybe it's different for other people, but I look at those and I almost feel like something like that, getting an endangered species listed, getting deforestation to slow or halt, those things almost seem like they are more tackle-able, they are more doable than changing something like factory farming.
0:26:46.6 JH: When it comes to... You have this outlook that is so positive, there's so much where you're looking at the solutions and you're looking at forward progress, and you have this kind of, this must be inside of the tools, the coping mechanisms that you've learned, because you're talking about what you're excited about, versus what you're frustrated with.
0:27:05.7 JH: I'm wondering where you are seeing progress inside of something like factory farming, puppy mills, bear bile farms, and these things that just seem like never-ending problems that we have to continuously peck at?
0:27:22.3 JM: It's funny that I'm now going to say what I'm not optimistic about it.
0:27:27.7 JM: But I absolutely must, because at this point in time, we're in a pandemic caused by animal use, and we're not looking at it. Like, come on. You know?
0:27:39.5 JH: Yes, yes.
0:27:41.0 JM: A lot of these zoonotic diseases are caused, three quarters of them are caused by eating animals, industrial farming, which are just unsanitary terrible places where viruses and diseases can leap, and they do, to us. They're caused by the capture of wild animals and bringing them to cities and chopping them up and eating them and selling them.
0:28:05.6 JM: So I'm optimistic about a lot, our awareness is growing, but isn't it interesting that we're not all screaming about eating fewer animals right now, while hundreds of thousands of us are dying because of this. What do you think about that?
0:28:18.8 JH: I'm so glad that your brain went there because it is something where I keep looping around to it and also not digging into it very deeply, but I keep looping around to this idea that the pandemic was ultimately caused by massive habitat destruction and wildlife trafficking, and so many other things.
0:28:35.1 JH: It seems like so many people turn and vilified bats or vilified something, rather than saying, "Okay, well, wait. Let's talk about how this is an ecosystem, how this is a supply and demand chain, how this is a global trade issue, really sparked something big and horrific." And yeah, talk about behavior change.
0:28:58.1 JH: I don't know, it's funny because I think that when you say, how do I feel about it, ultimately my answer is, "Jaymi, you need to think about it a lot more."
0:29:06.2 JM: Oh, neat.
0:29:07.6 JH: And figure out and connect some puzzle pieces. It's something that I had in the back of my mind, but need to dig into. I'm wondering about some of the questions that have been brought up for you, when we think about something like, "Hey, we're in the middle of a pandemic, this is a perfect example." What questions are we not asking?
0:29:23.9 JM: We are powerful people as photographers, and we are media makers, we shape history. So I'm coming back to things that I find exciting, I'm excited about being a photographer at this stage in history. So we can go to the wet markets, we can go to the industrial farms and say, "Hey people, this is causing environmental destruction, habitat loss, deforestation. Death of everyone, including us. So here's the proof."
0:29:54.6 JM: And get that work out into the media, get that work out to campaigners and anyone who can use it. So there's... Going back to the optimistic bit there. [chuckle] We are the ones who have the power to get people to ask important questions.
0:30:09.9 JH: And so you mentioned earlier, what I wanna dig into is you were excited about some of the laws that are happening around animal rights and having more protections for animals as sentient beings. What are some of these laws that you're seeing, or at least conversations around laws that can change fundamentally the way that we perceive and work with animals?
0:30:34.7 JM: We're seeing changes here globally. Whether it's a political party, like in the Netherlands, for example, there's the Dutch Party for the Animals, and they have six seats, and they are curbing industrial farming, they put a ban on the import of trophy hunts, they had temporarily, they had tried to ban fur farming, they've got all sorts of good things happening. So there's that.
0:31:01.5 JM: Animal law is growing. Joyce Tischler is the mother of animal law. She, decades ago was like, "Animal law is not a thing. Okay, I'm gonna start that. I'm gonna start calling it that." And now animal law is a booming field. We're also seeing more than ever cruelty cases going to court, and I helped with one of them at a fur farm in Canada.
0:31:24.6 JM: It was the first successful criminal trial, it was a cruelty case brought against a mink and fur farmer, and as a result of that work, which was helped by us providing evidence, yeah, they were charged and they're no longer allowed to fur farm. We're seeing all sorts of little changes and big changes, and we're also seeing these cases of personhood, bringing personhood to animals like chimpanzees and elephants and... What is it called? Habeas corpus?
0:32:00.6 JH: Oh, habeas corpus.
0:32:00.6 JM: Habeas Corpus, yeah. And so we're seeing that for chimpanzees and elephants, and we'll get there and eventually more and more animals will be afforded the rights that we have because they're sentients. They're sentient, and because they're complex and they deserve many of the freedoms, if not all of the freedoms, that's contentious, that we have.
0:32:23.7 JH: Who are some of the clients that come to We Animals Media? Are they animal lawyers? Are they campaigners? Who are some of the clients that need the media that you're providing?
0:32:36.9 JM: You can see how much I'm smiling right now.
0:32:40.0 JM: That's because we have global use every single day of our work. It just floors us sometimes because we barely do any advertising, and yet NGOs globally daily use us, they find us and use our work. So we have big environmental NGOs, but we also have a lot of students and law makers and people who wanna further their messaging and their campaigns, they get used in protests and billboards.
0:33:12.2 JM: I remember fulfilling a request from South Sudan.
0:33:14.0 JH: Wow.
0:33:17.3 JM: Wow, South Sudan is using We Animals Media. Is someone there? Who's using our work there? From what we can see, we've tracked that we've had requests from over 133 countries for our work.
0:33:28.6 JH: That's incredible. Wow.
0:33:30.8 JM: So it feels like it is a necessary thing that we have built, and if you build it, they will come. If it's a good idea. And so it seems that there is a demand and a desire for more of these stories, so I'm heartened by that.
0:33:44.0 JH: Have you ever seen a use of your imagery or footage where you've disagreed with the way it's been used?
0:33:50.8 JM: Yes, yeah, but I can only control that so much, seeing as I'm putting the work out into the world. Sometimes if there's a big disagreement, we'll ask them to not use the images. For example, if they're using it to promote happy hands, which is not really a thing. So I'm using this as an example, but we haven't actually seen that, but if a company were to use our work to promote eating eggs, we would say no. In fact, we have licenses that have that in the terms and conditions.
0:34:23.6 JM: And then sometimes people might use language with our work that's heavy-handed, which is not how we do it at We Animals, we like to be inclusive and friendly and educational in a really great way instead of shouting. But that's different kinds of activism for different people, we can only control that so much. Maybe the shouting does work on some people. [chuckle] It does, it does.
0:34:47.9 JM: So I don't know, I'm like a really soft and friendly type, so I would never put scream-y language on one of my images, but some people do. That has to be okay.
0:34:56.7 JH: Cool. So speaking of being inclusive and educational and having contributing photographers for We Animal Media, I want to point out a master class that you have. You have We Animals Media Photography Masterclass available, and there's eight lessons that goes all the way from finding stories and talking about gear, coping with trauma, which is a big one, and providing different advice. Can you tell me a little bit about why this master class exists? What sparked this? And who tends to take this master class?
0:35:27.4 JM: Thanks for that question. I love talking about this because it is such a great resource for photographers and for activists. We built the master class because I was spending all my time mentoring people and answering emails, and all these questions coming in about the how-tos. How to shoot through caging in a dark room, how to cope, what kind of gear do you use.
0:35:51.9 JM: And so we figured why don't we put all of this material, all of these questions that we get, in one space. So it's two and a half hours, self-guided, eight episodes, and there are lessons at the end of each one. So we give you assignments, if you want them, you can go out and try these techniques at a sanctuary or try these techniques at a vigil, somewhere where you might bear witness to animals.
0:36:15.5 JM: I think we've had over 350 purchases of the master class, and that may seem like a low number, but it's pretty good considering how niche this is, and it's an indication to me that animal photojournalism is growing. More and more people are keen to do it. Which I'm so happy about.
0:36:32.7 JM: Which leads into one of the really great things for me about We Animals, is the mentoring that we do. We'll be offering fellowship soon, we'll be doing portfolio overview soon, and I have a heck of a lot of conversations with a lot of people about all of these how-tos.
0:36:51.3 JH: I think it's an amazing resource. And when you say 350 purchases, that means 350 people care enough to learn more and they're gonna be putting their skills to use in this field, and that's really encouraging and heartening.
0:37:06.5 JM: It's fun, and it's nice to be building a community around this work as well, because back to your question earlier about the difficulty of doing this work and the coping, it's really nice for us to be able to talk to one another, to talk to We Animal photo journalists about how it's going and how to improve and how we're coping. And so we have a Facebook page as well for the people who have taken the master class, so they can show their images and talk about how they're doing there.
0:37:32.9 JH: That's extraordinary. You mentioned animal photojournalism. Can you tell me a little bit more about using that term inside of your work?
0:37:42.5 JM: Yes. We decided to coin "animal photojournalism", which felt really ballsy. Sorry for my language.
0:37:50.0 JM: Who are we to create a new genre or name a new genre. But there's been no pushback like I expected. People seem to think and agree with us that it makes sense. And so what it is is an evolution of what we do in photography. As you know there are many kinds of photography, and it keeps changing and growing.
0:38:14.1 JM: I see animal photojournalism as a mix of conservation photography, street photography, conflict photography, there are elements of all of these in animal photojournalism. But I think what makes animal photojournalism or APJ, 'cause it's a mouthful, we call it APJ. What really differentiates APJ is that it's inclusive of all animals. We don't really see that elsewhere, we don't really see that in conservation photography.
0:38:40.5 JM: We wanna give it the gravitas of conflict photography as well, so we do include that. Because right now the way we have to do it is to go out and put ourselves in dangerous situations in order to get the images that are required to help create change. And so we do things that we don't wanna do, like sneaking around and trespassing at night in order to gain access to places, and we do put ourselves in danger. Many of my investigator friends have been in grave danger and have been beaten up and have been jailed, gone through expensive court cases, because we are so motivated to do this work.
0:39:16.6 JH: When you talk about being in dangerous situations, this is something that I would love to just dig into a little bit, because it is an area where someone might feel really compelled to document something, but the idea of going to certain lengths is terrifying in so many ways, and it causes someone to really pause and say, "Okay, well, how much am I gonna put myself at risk in order to pursue the story and telling the story?" How do you make judgment calls in that zone of, "Yes, this is worth the risk," or, "No, this is too far for me."?
0:39:51.9 JM: Well, it's very personal, and I would never tell anyone that you have to go out, and in order to do APJ it's you have to go do the more hardcore trespassing and night investigations. It's really not about that. It's your comfort level. And also being versed in good security when you do this work. I don't go up to a farm alone at night, I go with a team of three or four people.
0:40:16.9 JM: We have walkie-talkies, we have protocols, safety protocols. Yeah, lots of measures to ensure that we can get in and out quietly and with the images that are necessary to create change. I wish I didn't have to sneak around, but there are ag gag laws, especially in North America here, that prevent us from going on properties to document. It prevents whistleblowers from whistle-blowing. It protects private interests, it protects and hides the cruelty going on in there.
0:40:53.6 JM: I think I meandered there a little bit. I'm gonna bring me back to the question there I think a little bit. So yeah, doing the investigative work. There are a lot of ways to do it. I mean, when I created my book, Captive, which is about animals in zoos an aquaria, I just had to buy a ticket to go in, spend several days at each place. I went to, I shot on five different contents for that book.
0:41:16.7 JM: So yeah, it's not all about the "night work", as I call it. Bullfights, rodeos, stories of hope and progress, stories of animals who have been rescued from industries.
0:41:29.0 JH: I have a question about the people side of this, because so much of it is... We've talked a lot about like, "Okay, well, we gather images of animals and put them out there and hopefully have audience behavior change." What situations or stories are in your archive essentially, where you've had conversations with people who were the, kind of the culprits of cruelty or who were part of the world that you are trying to stop, whether it's part of an industry or part of a culture, a behavior? And have you seen progress on an individual one-on-one level?
0:42:02.3 JM: There's a lot there. And that's great. I will say that this work, We Animals, is really about we animals. Us animals. That's why it's so important for me to show people in the images, our behaviors, constructs in which we keep animals, so that we can self-reflect. It's very different from pet portraits, and you're not gonna see a lot of images of just the animals. Yeah, because this is very much about us.
0:42:30.4 JM: I have met lots of slaughterhouse workers, factory farm workers, owners of these facilities, and it's really great when I can have a conversation with them. Hear about why they do what they do. I like people, and I don't think that we're malevolent. We're just doing what we've always done.
0:42:49.9 JM: It's very ingrained that animals are here for our use, so some of us own slaughterhouses, some of us work at them, it's the way it is. I would never begrudge a laborer, and a lot of laborers don't want those jobs, they're taking these long-houred, underpaid, sometimes really filthy jobs in factory farms, the cleaning, the slaughter, all these things that they have to do, because there aren't other options for them.
0:43:13.7 JM: So I don't begrudge these people, and it's of course, it's an opportunity for me to learn more about these industries and how they work. Yeah, does that answer the question?
0:43:25.2 JH: It does a bit. It helps a lot to hear your perspective on dealing with other people, because so much of any form of progress is conversation, finding common ground and moving forward in collaboration. And so I guess I'm wondering if you've had individual conversations, like for instance, a mink farmer who is behaving in a cruel way, and to actually have them transform the way that they run their business, if they don't change their business, or change their business completely. Have you ever had sort of like a transformation experience with someone that you are documenting?
0:44:02.4 JM: Well, for the most part, it's the campaigners who are doing that work and having those conversations and working with farmers and with industry, so that's sort of a secondary thing that happens after I have done some documentation for them.
0:44:18.8 JH: Got it.
0:44:21.2 JM: But having said that, I have had lots of conversations, and I've talked with dairy farmers who feel that it is cruel to the animals, the way we take a calf away from a mother as soon as the calf is born, so that we can drink the milk. I've certainly heard plenty of them say, "Yeah, yeah, it is cruel. But it's the way it is."
0:44:41.0 JM: I've talked to farmers who really don't like how things have moved away from small family farming to these industrialized sized places where it's unsanitary. So broiler chickens for example, which is the euphemism for meat chickens, they're kept tens of thousands per shed. And they get sick and they're ill, and the easiest way to go around euthanizing those who are dying on the floor is to rip their heads off.
0:45:12.6 JM: And so, yeah, and we've documented that practice. They don't love doing it, it's the way it is, and I don't think they ever imagined when they got into farming that they'd be going into barns every day, ripping off the heads or breaking the necks of sometimes hundreds of chicks and chickens.
0:45:28.3 JM: I met some workers also in a broiler farm in Spain, and it was 04:00 in the morning and they were collecting the birds, five and 10 at a time, hanging upside down, you just grab them by the legs and you throw them into crates. A number of them asked me if I could help them get another job. It really broke my heart. And some of these people were unpapered and from Portugal and other countries. And they just didn't wanna be there.
0:45:54.1 JM: It's just harrowing dirty work, it's so dusty in these places. It's really unpleasant. I mean, they're surrounded by fear and suffering. That has an effect on people. Yeah, there's a book by Gail Eisnitz called, Slaughterhouse. And she interviewed slaughterhouse workers. It's quite revelatory. If people are interested in reading more about the effects of working in these industries on people.
0:46:17.4 JH: I could only imagine the amount of trauma that could be inflicted on an animal lover who needs to have a job like this in order to pay for their family and care for their family and to have to endure something like that all day and be part of the action, that would be incredibly difficult.
0:46:35.8 JM: And we wanna tell more of those stories with We Animals Media. We're very interested in not just the other animals, but us animals and what it's like for us. And the overlap. Because animal advocacy in animal stories is not in a bubble, it's not its own thing. It overlaps with, as we've talked about, the burning of the Amazon and deforestation, pollution and labor rights, and all of this. It's all connected. So we have a lot of work to do.
0:47:05.9 JH: We do. Which loops back into your optimism and being excited about continuing on some of these paths that might seem like we will never end working on them, but it's worth working on them. I mean, you might as well continue doing the work that you feel strongly about and believe in, and to continue to push for the direction that you wanna see, than not do anything at all.
0:47:29.6 JM: Yes, there's that mentality that, "What can one person do?" And if people feel that way, then they're not going to do anything. But the more we empower others, which I love doing, which is also part of why I choose to be an optimist, the more we empower others, the more things will change.
0:47:46.9 JM: And so you wanna stop chicken tomorrow, I'm gonna celebrate that. Or if you're buying cruelty-free toothpaste, that's fantastic. And the more you make people feel empowered and happy, the more they're gonna keep going on that route, on that positive route for change.
0:48:03.8 JH: Absolutely. So you have several books out and We Animals Media, you've got projects right and left. What else is in your future? What can we expect to see from you as a photographer?
0:48:17.4 JM: Yeah, mentoring, I'll come back to that. I'll continue... Me personally, I'll continue to be in the field, but really strategically. So do I need to be there or can we have someone local, a local photographer do the shoot? So do I need to go to India or can we build relationships with Indian photographers? And that gives all of these other photographers work and we can critique the work, we can get it on the stock site and help people build their careers. And the portfolio reviews and maybe more master classes.
0:48:54.9 JM: Yeah, so we'll see. We'll see. Whatever I'm doing, it's gonna keep me really, really busy, because it's a lot to do. But we have I think a couple more documentary films over the coming years that will come out. And just building We Animals Media into a really robust photo agency, that isn't just about an expose of what is, but possibilities for what can be.
0:49:26.7 JM: So we do wanna shoot stories of change and progress, and one of our big projects about that is called Unbound, and it's about women on the front lines of animal advocacy worldwide. We see a lot of women in this work, a very high percentage, but often it's men in positions of power, surprise surprise, at the top of an NGO, for example, or a company.
0:49:46.7 JM: So this project, Unbound, celebrates the hard-working women who are a pioneering or toiling away uncelebrated. And so we feature lawyers and veterinarians and sanctuary founders. It's really fun.
0:50:00.7 JH: What an incredible project. I love it.
0:50:04.0 JM: Well, also, I built it because Jane Goodall was my hero growing up, and I wanted to be like her and I wanted to do what she was doing. And by that, I don't mean chimpanzees, but I mean being out there in the world with animals creating change. And so why not give more women this kind of platform, so that other people can see their stories and say, "Hey, I didn't know I could be an animal lawyer," or, "I didn't know I can do X, Y, Z." So that's one of the reasons we were super excited about it.
0:50:33.0 JH: Wonderful. Well, for anyone who is very excited to work with you, who has listened to this interview and says, "We Animals Media is where I wanna be," how can they start to dig in and make connections and become a contributing photographer, or learn more and gain mentorship or guidance to come in this direction with you?
0:50:52.5 JM: Thank you. Well, we've made it easy because we really wanna find these people, so there's a form on the website and it's "work with us". So you just go to "work with us" and click on "be a contributor", and it just generates a document and you can fill in your information, send us some of your work, tell us what your interests are and where you are.
0:51:13.1 JM: And so we're just amazed at who is finding us. We were just looking at the contributor forms a few days ago, people from India and Bangladesh and China and New Zealand. We're like, "Wow, they're finding us."
0:51:25.2 JH: Global community coming together.
0:51:27.6 JM: Exactly. [chuckle]
0:51:30.5 JH: Well, everything will be linked in the show notes, so everyone can go to We Animals Media or into the show notes, be able to find the forms, to be able to find that image, that winning image that started the whole conversation with us together, and I'm sure it's starting a lot of conversations for a lot of people about the interconnectedness of what we do on this planet, and who it actually affects that we forget about.
0:51:55.8 JM: Well, tank you so much for allowing me to talk about animal photojournalism. For all you do, you're helping so many photographers and just generating so much enthusiasm, it's just, it's just fabulous. I'm glad we've connected.
0:52:07.6 JH: Oh, thank you. Well, it is a joy and an honor to talk with you and to just celebrate everything that you're doing. It is no small feat. And it is such a herculean task psychologically, emotionally, creatively, and I think that what you're doing is truly phenomenal. I know I couldn't do it, and so thank goodness you're out there leading the way. Thank you so much.
0:52:29.8 JM: Thank you. Thank you so much.
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