“This is the story no one wants,” says Toronto-based photojournalist Jo-Anne McArthur. These are the words that begin her latest project, a collaboration with filmmaker and editor Kelly Guerin that looks to make accessible some of the more horrific, disturbing images of animal cruelty McArthur has encountered around the world.
In 2011, McArthur visited a slaughterhouse in Tanzania and bore witness to terrible, tragic fates. Her experiences traveling to capture photos of the deplorable conditions animals are kept in and the ways in which they are treated, be it for food, clothing, or scientific testing, was realized in the 2013 documentary by Liz Marshall, The Ghosts in Our Machine.
That feature, this short titled The Slaughterhouse, and her book We Animals, look to simply and powerfully make a connection between the viewer and the animal. McArthur tries to avoid presenting the sentiment that all humans are bad, or to make a moralistic case.
“That’s how this sort of vile footage gets used, in a finger-pointing way,” said McArthur during a phone interview following the release of the video. It’s not meant as a condemnation. “We tried to tone that down,” she says.
McArthur also wants to avoid making villains out of those in the film seen committing such acts. Tanzania is not meant to be singled out, as McArthur has witnessed similarities around the globe. “These jobs are usually taken by those who don’t have any other options,” she continued. “In India, only the lowest caste works in killing and tanning. Whether I’m in North America, Europe, or Africa, it’s people who don’t want these jobs, who can’t find anything else, who are working illegally or in cash. And these are high risk jobs. It’s not good for the animals, it’s not good for the humans.”
It’s surely, unimaginably tough for McArthur as well, who has had to deal with not only seeing these horrors in person and living with them after, but being unable to do anything while such acts are going on. She documents; she doesn’t interfere.
“When instinct and every fiber of your soul tells you to save a life, and you can’t, it changes you,” she narrates in the film. “To connect with someone when they go to their death, to not answer the pleading in their eyes and their wails, breaks you.”
It would seem there is some footage too horrific, some images that people don’t want to see, and The Slaughterhouse may have some of that. “I sat on it for a long time,” says McArthur on the phone, who is also observing her 12-year vegan anniversary (vegan-versary?). She met with Kelly Guerin, who in 2014 made the short film Animal Auction (which you can watch here), and the two tried to craft a way to make the images presentable and powerful. “We were trying to make it gentler. It’s not the most gruesome of what I have, but we wanted to get it out there.”
It’s an intense and important three minutes. “How do we get us all to look, to really see, and not turn away?” McArthur says in the video. It’s a pivotal question, and The Slaughterhouse is a worthy answer, and strong statement.
You can read the entire blog post and see the video on We Animals, or watch below: