Introduction: Jo-Anne is an award-winning photojournalist, sought-after speaker, and the founder of We Animals Media. She has been documenting the plight of animals on all seven continents for almost two decades. She is the author of three books, We Animals (2014), Captive (2017), and HIDDEN: Animals in the Anthropocene (2020) and was the subject of Canadian filmmaker Liz Marshall’s acclaimed documentary, The Ghosts in Our Machine. Jo-Anne is based in Toronto, Canada and travels many months each year to document and share the stories of animals worldwide. There are many ways to be a humane educator, and photojournalism is one of them. Through her photographs, Jo-Anne educates, fosters compassion, and ignites action. I am honored to call Jo-Anne a friend and consider her work one of the most powerful ways to create positive change for animals.
Zoe: You’ve documented some of the worst atrocities perpetrated on animals. Can you share a couple of stories about how such documentation has led to awareness of the plight of animals and from that awareness to positive changes?
Jo-Anne: In many ways, the short and long-term effects of images are nearly impossible to quantify. We do hear from people around the world each day about how our images or films have inspired them to reduce their animal consumption, or buy cruelty free products. Our work is inspiring photographers, both seasoned and early-career, to take up animal photojournalism. There’s a lot going on in our We Animals Media world with assignments, mentorship, speaking engagements in so many parts of the world where I get to share stories about animal sentience and how our acts of compassion and kindness can and do lead to a better world for us all.
My work has helped close down macaque breeding facilities and a fur farm, has helped many campaigns with poignant visuals and films, and educated and enlightened millions of people. I feel really fortunate to be able to do this work at this time in history when animal advocacy in its many forms is so sorely needed.
Zoe: One of the challenges that humane educators – and activists in general – experience is despair in the face of the cruelty and suffering they seek to uncover and address. You went to Australia during the 2020 wildfires to document the impact of the fires on animals. How do you cope with the sadness and despair that you likely endure, and what advice can you give to humane educators who wish to inspire action without creating hopelessness in themselves or others?
Jo-Anne: I will say that it’s hard. I care so much about the suffering of others, and I’m faced with animals I can’t directly help, but I do know that the work educates people and helps future generations of animals. For example, our work at We Animals Media inspires people to change what and whom they consume and inspires people to contribute to the organizations I work with, too, which was the case in Australia, where I was working with Animals Australia and Vets for Compassion. Ultimately, though, I can continue to do what I do because action is catharsis: I put the images I shoot to good use by making them available free to anyone helping animals, and we track where those images travel, and they travel far! So I can at least feel a sense of groundedness in that the lengths I go to to document animal suffering and abuse are making a difference. (Over 10,000 images available here: www.weanimalsmedia.org)
Zoe: Do you have a favorite photograph you’ve taken?
Jo-Anne: Perhaps you wouldn’t expect me to say that a “favorite” photo of mine is one of the more painful or violent ones, but really, my favorite images are my strongest images: those which connect us indelibly to the subject. If the audience can get a sense of what it might be like to be a pig in a gestation crate, unable to turn around, or to be a kangaroo in the remains of her burned home; if the images make space for empathy, and a reconsideration of our relationship to animals, well, those are my preferred images.
For more information about the achievements of We Animals Media, please visit: https://weanimalsmedia.org/about/we-animals-achievements/