What is animal photojournalism? Why does this genre of photography matter? What drives those who work in this field?

Captive monkey by Jo-Anne McArthur

HIDDEN: Animals in the Anthropocene is an unflinching book of photography documenting our relationship with non-human animals in the 21st Century. It focuses on the invisible animals in our lives: those with whom we have a close relationship and yet fail to see. They are the animals we eat and the animals we wear. They are the animals used in research and for entertainment, as well as the animals we sacrifice in the name of tradition and religion.

HIDDEN includes the work of a global community of photographers, 40 of the world’s best animal photojournalists who work globally to investigate, document, and expose animal use. It also has the support of actor and animal activist, Joaquin Phoenix.

We spoke to co-editors and photojournalists, Jo-Anne McArthur and Keith Wilson, about the project and what it means to be an animal photojournalist.

Let us start by saying we’re big fans of your work and have Jo-Anne’s previous book, ‘We Animals’, on our bookshelf. We are grateful that you are undertaking such important work to make the suffering of these often forgotten animals visible.

Thank you so much! And I’m grateful that you care so much about these stories as well. Thank you for helping me get them out into the world.

Why the title “HIDDEN?” What’s being hidden?

Jo-Anne: The animals we use most in our daily lives are hidden. They’re hidden away in factory farms, fur farms, and in labs that use them in research and testing. They are also hidden euphemistically; we don’t say we’re eating a calf, for example. We say we’re eating veal. These words create space between “human” and “animal,” “us” and “them,” “subject” and “object.”

We are always hiding animals from ourselves. We build walls and euphemisms to cover any discomfort we might have. If we were to face the animals we keep in crates and cages, and spend some time examining their lives there, and why they are there, we may not be able to enjoy ham or foie gras.

In addition to exposing the use of animals, HIDDEN also attempts to break new ground in the growing field of Animal Photojournalism. What is animal photojournalism?

Jo-Anne: Animal Photojournalism (APJ) is an emerging genre of photography that captures, memorializes, and exposes the experiences of animals who live amongst us, but who we fail to see. At its core, the images in this pioneering field document the broader human-animal conflict and its resultant ecosystems of suffering. As global societies collectively awaken to the realities of our unjust exploitation of animals, APJ is of increasing interest.

From public and environmental health crises to zoonotic viruses, animals are inextricably linked to many areas of current global concern, and rightfully so. Our existence is intertwined, and the ethics of how we treat the other sentient beings with whom we share this planet are being called into question. Animal photojournalism aims to encourage swift and necessary change on behalf of the beings in the frame. APJ emphasizes the inclusion of all animals, particularly those historically underrepresented, like those kept within industrialized systems.

APJ is groundbreaking for two reasons. First, images in this genre demand radical empathy and self-awareness. Viewers must de-center themselves and consider the world through the eyes of a different species, while holding the truth of humanity’s undeniable role in the story. Additionally, it poses a fundamental threat to deeply embedded societal systems that continue, largely unchallenged. The act of seeking out these visual stories is itself an act of resistance.

We are grateful to have been able to use images from HIDDEN for our #FinishFur campaign. The images were devastating, highlighting the cruel reality of fur farming. How did it feel to witness these beautiful creatures forced into a life of suffering for the fashion industry?

Jo-Anne: It’s difficult on a lot of levels, especially as I’m there to document the pain, the loneliness and the banality of their lives without possibly being able to rescue them. The work I produce aims to help reduce the number of animals in cages, ultimately putting an end to fur farming. I’ve met tens of thousands of fur bearers now. Many more than that, even – sometimes there are tens of thousands of mink on a single farm, where investigators and I are spending the night, documenting. It’s all very unhappy and stressful, but there is some catharsis in taking action with the images and video we shoot.

What’s the most harrowing or affecting experience you’ve ever had documenting animals in their unnatural environments?

Jo-Anne: It’s not one experience, but the recurring experience of leaving the animals behind, once I’ve taken their photographs. I can’t help the millions of animals I’ve met. I’m trying to change the future for animals. So, the leaving comes with a feeling of guilt. I channel negative and unproductive feelings into action, though, otherwise I would not be able to do this work.

What’s it like to spend your career witnessing animal abuse, cruelty, and neglect? What is the psychological impact?

Jo-Anne: Interestingly enough, that answer may not actually be visible to me. There has been a tremendous amount of psychological impact, both detrimental and galvanizing. Bearing witness only furthers my drive to do it again, and to mentor others to do it, and to build our strategic agency, We Animals Media, that tells the stories of animals. I’m not afraid of confronting the suffering of others, and I am fairly philosophical about my own suffering at this point. It’s my job to go towards these stories, and so I do. It’s very clear to me that we can only change suffering if it’s out in the open and if we don’t turn away from it.

What takes place for people viewing these images? What’s the process of awareness that they go through – or that you hope, ideally, they go through?

Keith: Many of the pictures are blunt and brutal. But we make no apologies for that, because you cannot soften the reality of industrial-scale execution, which is what many of these images depict. So, people will be shocked and hopefully angered by what they see. But I also want them to come away better informed, and not just outraged. We all know that “every picture is worth a thousand words,” but not all those words are answers. In the case of HIDDEN, most of these words are questions, and I’ve always felt that the best documentary pictures are those that raise countless questions in the viewer’s mind. That’s why the supporting text, captions and statistics are so important: they help the viewer to rationalize the horror of what they see.

Raising awareness isn’t just about grabbing people’s attention with a shocking image – that’s only half the story. It’s about converting that emotional response into considered action, based upon the facts that accompany the image.

HIDDEN includes images from all over the world – six continents. Is there a common thread in animal use among different cultures? Are there distinctions?

Keith: There is a common, bloody and stinking thread that remains strong across all continents and cultures – and has done so for thousands of years. This thread is one that connects all animals as a resource, a commodity, for our use and abuse. Across all cultures, we kill and exploit animals to feed us and to clothe us, to help us hunt and travel, to be subjected to experiments and sacrificed in the name of research and tradition, and as subjects for our entertainment.

Distinctions? Apart from the fact that some cultures avoid certain animals from their diet, or give them religious reverence, there are few distinctions I can think of; none that are edifying or noble.

How did Joaquin Phoenix get on board?

Jo-Anne: Joaquin and I had met a few times over the past year when we were both at events in support of animal activism in Canada, the U.S., and in England. We both bear witness to animals going to slaughter and we are fans of each other’s activism and work. I told him about the book and was absolutely delighted by his response that he’d be honored to write something for HIDDEN. I think it’s always great when people of influence use that influence to benefit others. Joaquin and his partner Rooney are role models in that regard.

Get your copy

Mink on a fur farm

Thank you to Jo-Anne, Keith and all the incredible photojournalists included in HIDDEN for undertaking such critical work to raise awareness of the suffering of animals on a global scale. Animal photojournalism is crucial to expose society’s exploitation of the often forgotten animals we share this planet with and move us to undertake necessary change to end such cruelty. You can purchase HIDDEN here.

Image: Mink on fur farm


About the co-editors

Jo-Anne McArthur, creator and co-editor of HIDDEN, is an award-winning photojournalist who has been documenting the lives of animals for two decades. She has travelled to over 60 countries to photograph people’s complex and disturbing treatment of animals for her non-profit photo agency, We Animals Media. In addition to being a juror with World Press Photo and MontPhoto, Jo-Anne has received accolades from competitions such as Wildlife Photographer of the Year, Nature Photographer of the Year, BigPicture, Pictures of the Year International (POYI) and the Global Peace Photo Award. Jo-Anne’s work has been published by hundreds of media outlets, and she speaks internationally on the topics of animal photojournalism, the human-animal relationship, social change, and empathy. Jo-Anne makes her work freely available to anyone advocating for animals via the We Animals Media stock site. HIDDEN is Jo-Anne’s third book, following We Animals (2014) and Captive (2017).

Keith Wilson is the co-founder (with Britta Jaschinski) of Photographers Against Wildlife Crime, an international group of award-winning photographers who have joined forces to use their powerful and iconic images to help bring an end to the illegal wildlife trade. Their efforts culminated in the publication of Photographers Against Wildlife Crime (2018). Keith also edits fine art nature photography books, working with some of Europe’s leading landscape and wildlife photographers. Titles include Zero Footprint (Leeming+Paterson), Silver (Jonathan Chritchley), and As Long As There Are Animals (David Lloyd). He is also the editor of the bestselling Remembering Elephants and its successor Remembering Rhinos, both published for the Born Free Foundation.

Main image: An Eastern grey kangaroo and her joey who survived the forest fires in Mallacoota.