Jo-Anne McArthur (she/her)
I was born/grew up in: I was born in Montreal, Quebec, and grew up in Ottawa, Ontario.
I now live in: Toronto, Ontario.
I completed my training/education at: I completed a Bachelor of English and Geography at the University of Ottawa.
What I do at work
I am the Founder and President of We Animals Media. Our aim is to tell the stories of animals in the human environment. These are the animals that are used for food, clothing, etc. I started out as a photojournalist, telling stories using photographs and images. My work evolved into telling the stories of animals.
While I am the President of this non-profit group, I work with a talented team of people who take care of marketing, fundraising, web and social media, accounting; everything it takes to run a photo agency. I’m involved in many of these processes, but also work on and publish books and articles. I create content to share information with the public and engage in public speaking. In my work, I do everything from working in the office to being out in the field doing research and taking photos.
While you might not think it, my work does have a STEM connection. We include animal behaviour as part of the story we tell about them through our images and books. It helps tell their story when we include some of their interesting behaviour. On our stock site, we include the scientific names of the species we work with. We want people to learn about these animals so we make sure our work is factual and scientific in nature. We aim to get feedback from scientists to ensure our information is correct.
My career path is
I did not know what I wanted to do when I was in school, and I didn’t get fantastic grades by any stretch. Classroom learning was a challenge. In my last year of high school, I realized that I wanted to try university. As a result, I really applied myself and to my surprise, got an A average, and my applications to universities were successful.
I started off studying geography mostly because I really didn’t know what I wanted to do. I took an elective course on black and white print making. This opened my eyes to artistic expression and its role in communication. I realized quite instantly this was what I wanted to do as a career.
I didn’t study photography formally. I immersed myself and learned what I could by myself. I went around to a number of agencies and offered to volunteer. I went to the Canadian Geographic office and volunteered to do anything; filing, making coffee, anything! I guess my attitude got me in the door. I worked as a photographer’s assistant. Later I was encouraged to start taking my own photographs. I continued to learn and worked with great mentors who helped me along the way. I devoured any information I could about photographers and photojournalism.
I started working for myself. I built a business taking photos of food, doing portrait photography, and weddings. I found I was good at being an entrepreneur. I was successful and I enjoyed the work. But I was really interested in social change. So I started taking photos of animals. Not companion animals or wildlife. The “hidden animals”. Those we eat, wear or use in research. We don’t often see them as living things because we see them on our plates or as clothing. Their stories are also important and need to be told. Animal stories also intersect with environment stories, health, and human rights stories. There’s a lot to cover as an animal photojournalist!
I am motivated by
I am motivated to help make the world a kinder place for all animals. I am excited by my ability to tell stories using images. I try to tell stories that are impactful. It is our nature to want to look away from animal cruelty. To get people to engage, we need to create poignant and compelling images.
How I affect peoples’ lives
Having an effect on people is what we aim to do! Images reach people and convey information much quicker than text can. We aim to make the world a better place for all living things by exploring our actions as they relate to animals in our human environment.
Outside of work I
I am an avid reader! This is my number one past time. I also garden, exercise, and spend time outdoors climbing and swimming. I’m not currently fostering animals but I have rescued, fostered and rehomed many. My home has been a refuge for countless birds, small mammals and, currently my geriatric mutt, Banjo.
My advice to others
Work hard and stay curious. Don’t expect any shortcuts. Expect to make mistakes, which is ok, as they are all opportunities for learning and growth.