IFLScience Meets: Award-winning wildlife photographer Jo-Anne McArthur talks wildlife photojournalism
Canadian photographer Jo-Anne McArthur received High Commendation for her photograph “Hope in a Burned Plantation” (see below) as part of the History Museum’s 2021 People’s Choice Awards for Wildlife Photographer of the Year London natural. McArthur traveled to Australia in early 2020 to capture the sobering profile, showing an eastern gray kangaroo and its joey moving through the wake of the destruction left by the vast wildfires.
We caught up with McArthur to learn more about the winning photo, her journey in photojournalism, and how and why she started We Animal Media.
What are you doing?
I am an animal photojournalist and president and founder of We Animals Media.
What did it take to get here?
I have a huge passion for photography and helping others. I saw a long time ago that I could combine these two loves, but I didn’t know if I could make a career out of it. I just worked really hard because I loved the fieldwork, the hustle and bustle, the growth as an entrepreneur, and the change I could see my animal photos were bringing about.
I studied Geography and English in college, but after my first photography elective I got into assisting editorial photographers, doing internships, volunteering and shooting, so that I can learn, learn, learn. I’m just better at hands-on, experiential learning than classroom learning.
Photography has been my job 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 called We Animals Media (WAM). What was once a “girl with a camera” is now a team of twelve people, many volunteers and photo contributors from all over the world. It was an amazing trip. All this work is in the service of making visible the life of all animals; we coined it wildlife 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 bit about the story behind your photo?
I had gone to Australia to photograph the animals, wild and domestic, affected by the cataclysmic climatic fires. This kangaroo and his joey were among the lucky survivors. An estimated three billion animals have been killed or displaced by the fires. I saw the kangaroo staring at me through the scorched eucalyptus grove and imagined this shot…but I still stood away from the angle I knew I wanted. It was a long walk to where I needed to be! She could have bounced back. I got to where I needed to be. Click on. And she bounced back.
Funny stories of photographing in nature? Hairy moments?
What stands out for me is how far we photographers go to get a story. Whether we are wildlife photographers, conflict photographers or photojournalists, we are committed to capturing the world and conveying its beauty and heartbreaking moments. Sitting around sharing stories with other photographers is always epic. We have invested a lot.
Much of my work as a wildlife photojournalist is difficult, sad and dangerous, exposing stories that people prefer to keep hidden. So lots of close calls, lots of danger and lots of tears cried over the cruelty and sadness I saw. It’s worth it because my work is seen around the world every day and it does what it’s supposed to do: change hearts and minds.
Otherwise, do you never leave the house?
A camera body that works well in low light, wide angle, and a lawyer’s phone number written on my forearm in case I get in trouble.
What advice would you give to someone who wants to get into wildlife photography?
I actually encourage people to get into wildlife photojournalism, which includes all animals. All animals need our help, need their stories told. They are all caught in the Anthropocene, with few safe places on Earth. Kangaroos. Fish. Pigs. Horses. Chickens. Elephants. Everyone. We destroy their homes, we keep them captive and we eat them by the billions every year. All of these stories need to be told, and that’s why photography has so much power.