The first few sentences in a recent press release for photographer-activist Jo-Anne McArthur's first photography book come straight to the point. McArthur is described as "a "war photographer" in an unseen and often intentionally ignored war on animals we use for food, fashion, science, labor, and for our entertainment."
Photography has a long tradition of crusading for the "little guy" or in this case "animal" rights. Jacob Riis, Lewis Hine, Mary Ellen Mark, Bill Brandt , W. Eugene Smith,Don McCullin, Sebastião Salgado turned their lenses on injustice and inequality in the world. Bringing the wrongs of world to light and within eye sight is a noble cause, but it doesn't always mean we will be moved to act.
We Animals (Lantern Books) is a passionate work of art and activism by a compassionate photographer. Bresson once remarked that we learn most about a photographer by the images they make. McArthur's image of a "woman with a deer head" is emblematic of this elegiac work. In the photograph, the woman, apparently caught off guard by the photographer at an antique shop, peers sharply through oversized amber sunglasses.
The "deer in the headlights" analogy is not to be missed in this image. The woman, with a cell phone cradled under her chin, appears to be embracing the deer head, not with a sense of intimacy, but rather in a way one would carry a bag of groceries or a pile of wood. The deer head is pointed upward toward the woman's face that seems just starting to react to the photographer, but its too late.
The image is interesting in another way.
For years, I have instructed my students not be taxidermists. That is not that make things that are alive and moving appear dead and lifeless. The deer head is an artifact -- a trophy that in this instance has been separated from its original context. Perhaps the woman bought the head for a bargain, a prize, or a steal. In any case, what the picture makes clear is how easy it is to distance ourselves from things we perceive to be less significant on this planet than we are. In this sense, the deer head becomes a passing fancy or a conversation starter in the man cave.
McArthur's resolve in "We Animals" is clear -- to bring some sanity into what she sees as a world of excess, neglect, and hubris -- a world where other living creatures are exploited in cruel and heartless ways.
McArthur is a sensitive and thoughtful photographer with a keen eye for breaking down our apathy and ignorance -- for making others see the world as she does.
List Price: $40.00