Canadian photographer Jo-Anne McArthur pocketed the accolade of highly commended for her photograph “Hope in a Burned Plantation” (see below) in the London Natural History Museum’s 2021 Wildlife Photographer of the Year People’s Choice Awards. McArthur traveled to Australia in early 2020 to capture the sobering profile, showing an eastern grey kangaroo and her joey moving through the wake of destruction left by the extensive forest fires.
We caught up with McArthur to find out more about the winning shot, her journey into photojournalism, and how and why she set up We Animal Media.
What do you do?
I am an animal Photojournalist and President and Founder of We Animals Media.
What did it take to get here?
I have a tremendous amount of passion for photography and for helping others. I saw long ago that I could combine these two loves, but I didn’t know if I could build a career from it. I just worked really hard because I loved the fieldwork, the hustle, the growth as an entrepreneur, and the change I could see that my animal photos were engendering.
I studied Geography and English Lit in university but after my first elective photography class, I launched myself into assisting editorial photographers, doing internships, volunteer work, and shooting, so that I could learn, learn, learn. I’m simply better with hands-on, experiential learning than classroom learning.
Photography has been my career for over twenty years. I did wedding, event, and food photography to pay for the documentary work, until the documentary work paid for itself.
My photo project, We Animals, is now We Animals Media (WAM). What was once “girl with camera” is now a team of twelve, many volunteers, and photo contributors worldwide. It’s been an incredible journey. All of this work is in the service of making the lives of all animals visible; we coined it animal photojournalism.
Today, WAM has over 14,000 images and video clips available on our stock site for anyone to use.
Can you tell us a little about the story behind your photo?
I’d gone to Australia to photograph the animals, both wild and domestic, who were affected by the cataclysmic climate fires. This kangaroo and her joey were among the lucky survivors. An estimated three billion animals were killed or displaced by the fires. I saw the kangaroo watching me through the burned eucalyptus plantation and I envisioned this photo… but I was still standing far away from the angle I knew I wanted. It was a long walk to where I needed to get to! She could have bounced away. I got to where I needed to be. Click. And she bounced away.
Any funny stories from photographing out in the wild? Any hairy moments?
What stands out for me is the distance we photographers go to get a story. Whether we’re wildlife photographers, conflict photographers, or photojournalists – we’re dedicated to capturing the world and conveying its beauty and its harrowing moment. Sitting around sharing stories with other photographers is always epic. We put ourselves through a lot.
Much of my work as an animal photojournalist is difficult, sad, and dangerous, because I’m exposing stories that people would rather stay hidden. So, many close calls, much danger, and many tears wept over the cruelty and sadness I’ve seen. It’s worth it because my work is seen globally every day, and it’s doing what it needs to do: change hearts and minds.
What do you never leave the house without?
A camera body that’s good in low light, a wide angle, and a lawyer’s phone number written on my forearm in case I get in trouble.
What’s one piece of advice you'd give to someone wanting to get into wildlife photography?
I’d actually encourage people to get into animal photojournalism, which is inclusive of all animals. All animals need our help, need their stories told. They are all caught in the Anthropocene, with few safe places left on Earth. Kangaroos. Fish. Pigs. Horses. Chickens. Elephants. Everyone. We destroy their homes, we keep them captive, and we eat them by the billions each year. All of these stories need to be told, and that’s why photography holds so much power.