Ghosts In Our Machine- Interview with Jo-Anne McArthur

Hey folks!
Today, I am sharing an interview I did with Jo-Anne McArthur of the very thought-provoking, masterfully shot and moving documentary film, The Ghosts In Our Machine.  This film gives us a very raw look into the lives of animals being brutally and senselessly tortured each day.  What makes this film so special is the way in which it shows Jo-Anne capturing images of the animals in such a manner that you can actually feel and connect with these abused animals.  I was deeply moved throughout the film. 

You will laugh, you will cry, you will wince, you will question and most importantly and hopefully, you will consider what you can do to help stop the unnecessary and senseless suffering of animals. 


C: You have been documenting animals for over 10 years, what led you to the place of wanting to share the plight of animals through photography?

Jo-Anne: I realized that I could combine my passions – helping animals, and photography – to make the world a better place. We’re stewards of this earth, all of us, and we need to help one another, the planet and the animals. Part of what I talk about in the We Animals Humane Education Programs is, all of us, using our skills, whatever they may be, to make the world a better and more peaceful place.

C: How did you become the subject of Ghosts In Our Machine?

The film’s director, Liz Marshall and I, have been friends for some time. She had been watching the development of We Animals closely for a few years, and had known that she wanted her next film to be about animal issues. She also wanted to tell the story through a sympathetic human character, and so she asked me if I would work with her. That was over three years ago now. We also appreciate the same aesthetic and have similar goals regarding getting important issues out into the public eye, which made us a good match.

C: What do you ultimately hope to achieve through your photography and this film as it pertains to animal rights?
Jo-Anne:  My life’s goal with the We Animals project is to reach and to move as many people as possible. To expose as much animal cruelty as possible and to make people rethink their relationship with non-human animals. By the end of it all, I don’t know what that will look like, but I know I will have tried my best. I’m a small part of a big movement to make the world a better place for animals.

C: There are other documentary films highlighting the exploitation of animals, and the main one that comes to my mind is Earthlings.  Do you feel that Ghosts In Our Machine differs from that one or other similar films and if so, how?

Jo-Anne: Of course Ghosts is very different. But both are important films that highlight animal suffering and seek to create change. Ghosts is a gentle film and aims to reach the mainstream, and be played in mainstream cinemas as well as on television, which is a goal that it is achieving.

Credit: The Ghosts In Our Machine / Liz Marshall © 2012

C: How do you feel that your photography and this film can impact those that aren't already involved or aware of the exploitation of animals?  Oftentimes, we as vegans or animal rights activists can find ourselves "preaching to the choir", in your opinion, how can we expand the reach to affect those unaware of the atrocities inflicted upon animals? 

Jo-Anne: Different tactics reach and move different folks. In some cases getting a leaflet will change someone, in other cases, a difficult but truthful film like Earthlings will move someone to change, and in many cases, change comes about in a person through gradual learning and small steps towards reducing animal suffering. My work highlights is often about cruelty, but I try to document these things in a beautiful way, so that the viewer sees the pain but doesn’t turn away from it. Beautiful images are necessary to engage the viewer and draw them into the content of the photograph. There will always be a certain amount of preaching to the choir, but through this, circles expand in ripple effect and more people are reached. I think though, that whatever our tactic and whatever our messaging, it should be delivered with kindness and humility. I never forget that I was a meat eater and it took me years to forgo eating animals.

C: If you were to sit down with a group of inner city teens that knew nothing about animal exploitation and you had to convince them about the importance of viewing this film, what would you say?

Jo-Anne: I’m not really someone who tries to convince anyone of anything. I’m a story teller, and I share stories about animals – both the sad stories and the good stories. I highlight the individual lives of animals, so that we can see that each are sentient, each have a personality and a will to live. In my work and my talks, I show beauty and sadness and truth about exploitation, and I talk about the joy of living compassionately and caring for others. Kindness is infectious. With my photos and the film, hopefully I’ll show people that it’s ok to look, and to really see.
C:  What is just ONE thing they can personally do to help the plight of animals, what would that be?
Jo-Anne: We’re full circle! I tell people to use their skills and passions to make the world a better place. We need to look beyond our very closed circles and our comfort zones. We all need each other, and the earth needs a hell of a lot of help. Animals are suffering at our hands by the billions each year. A billion is a number that can’t be felt, but we have to remember that a billion is actually 1  + 1 + 1 + 1 … all individuals, and just as our lives mean everything to us, so it is for them.
A very special thank-you to Jo-Anne for her time and thoughtful answers.  To learn more about the film and screening information, please visit the film's website: