Wednesday, January 30, 2013

THE WITNESS: PHOTOGRAPHER JO-ANNE McARTHUR

Pig in Transport Truck

IF “PHOTOGRAPHY IS TRUTH,” as Jean-Luc Godard once proclaimed, then photographer Jo-Anne McArthur’s camera is like a floodlight, illuminating what is so often hidden and dismissed in our society— the plight of animals. With her trained eye and empathetic resolve, she documents the suffering, distress, confusion and sadness of the ones who are confined; then shows us the joy and contentment of those lucky enough to be free. Jo-Anne has been putting truth on film and pixel for over ten years. She has traveled the world with her documentary project We Animals, contributing her photos to countless animal liberation campaigns. Each of her images is at once a question that lingers, a confrontation with our own conscience… and a call to action. Most recently, she documented the transport of pigs to slaughter in below freezing weather in Canada, as part of the Toronto Pig Save vigils. Her images will be featured in the upcoming film The Ghosts In Our Machine (directed by Liz Marshall), which tells the stories of animals who are used for food, clothing, entertainment and research. Jo-Anne appears to be ubiquitous, working tirelessly to make a difference. Here, she talks to us about the drive behind her work, and her love for animals.

Why did you feel it was important to be there on those freezing afternoons in Toronto to photograph the transport trucks?
It’s in extremes of weather that the pigs suffer most. The pigs are acclimatized to the indoors until they’re sent to slaughter, so the cold is a big change for them and they don’t have much hair to keep them warm. By the time they’ve spent hours in those transports in extreme weather, many are huddled on the floor, unable to move or respond. Some are dead. When I’m there to witness and document, I can’t help but put myself in their position. There I am, outside with cold feet and a cold nose, but they are bare-skinned and exposed to the wind rushing through the transport for long stretches of time. Their pain is crippling. Their forthcoming deaths are bad enough, but this as a prelude? It’s shameful. Needless deaths and needless suffering. I go to witness, to document, and share what I’ve learned.

What reactions have you been met with?
When we’re at Toronto Pig Save vigils, we’re met with extremes of opinion, to be sure. Some honk, wave, give thumbs up and enthusiastic support for us as we stand vigil on what has come to be known as “Pig Island”. Others make sure we see their middle finger or let us know with much originality that they love bacon. The trucks started detouring, or not going into the left-turning lane so that we couldn’t document the inside of their trucks. For the most part though, there haven’t been many efforts to censor. Mind you, the police get called fairly regularly but there’s not much they can do except tell us to obey the rules of the road. Toronto Pig Save takes a Gandhian approach to protesting; this is a peaceful movement and a pro-labour movement as well. We’re not there to anger or antagonize anyone, we’re there to open people’s eyes about the pig slaughterhouse in the neighbourhood, where 6000 pigs a day are killed. We’re there for the pigs and we’re there to show an alternative to treating animals this way.

Rescued Pig

Describe your emotions looking at the pigs. People rarely get to witness the transport of animals to slaughter, because of the industry’s notorious secrecy.
Yes, it’s an industry shrouded in secrecy, but if we take steps to witness, there’s never far to go before we can see what happens. Transports carrying animals are always going up and down most highways and in and out of cities. We believe in witnessing so that we can share those stories and show those photos, so that others can know what it’s like for the animals as well. When you witness this sort of pain and suffering, it changes you. It changes most people, and makes them want to take action, makes them want to stop eating pigs. Countless times, people are moved by the sadness in a way that motivates them and inspires them to return to witness again, and to speak out about what goes on. When we do this as a community, we can support each other, and we do. It helps to process the feelings of sadness and hopelessness. The community is growing; Toronto Pig Save has now become the “Save” movement, with groups cropping up in Canada, the USA and in Australia. Witnessing as a community is working, it’s inspiring people in so many ways.

But how do we feel about seeing the pigs in transport? It’s just plain difficult. Many of us cry. Many of us speak kindly to the pigs as they go by. In warmer weather, many  pigs come to the openings in the transport walls and sniff our hands and faces, and we pet their faces. We try to show them some kindness before they die. On a personal level and as a photographer, I balance the feelings of sadness with the necessity of work. I’m there to take really strong images so that others can witness too, and I need to do that work well. I have to concentrate on framing the picture well, documenting the pigs’ faces, eyes, injuries, the cramped conditions. It’s depressing work but it’s an honour to be able to contribute to the movement, and to change, and it always moves me to be with the animals. This is always where my heart is: being with the animals in some way, trying to help, sometimes bringing them comfort if I can.

Bird and fish in market

Your photography is your activism, and your camera can be called your weapon in fighting injustice. What has led you to photography, and specifically to documenting the plight of animals?
Yes, photography is my tool for animal rights activism, and it’s great to see so many more people doing this as well, be it undercover or wide out in the open, documenting injustice everywhere. What led me to photography… while I was studying at University I took an elective black and white printing class, and after that first class, that was it for me, it felt as though I’d found my “calling.” I’d always loved photography, but at that point my love deepened and I knew it would be a great tool in life for me, because I’m so curious about things… cameras can sometimes act as an all-access pass to the lives of others. I had some good advice along the way too; my mum had told me to figure out what I love doing, then find a way to make a living doing it. This was great, especially when so many kids are subconsciously fulfilling their parents wishes, or doing what they think they should do, when they pick their schooling or career path.

I also had some great advice from a photographer mentor of mine, Larry Towell, who told me to stop looking so far afield for stories, to look inside instead. “Do what you love” and “do what you know” are things he said, and that struck a chord. I loved helping animals, always did. Soon I realized I could combine my loves for photography and helping animals. I don’t make a living doing it, mind you (I do commercial, event and portrait photography to pay the bills), but I’m definitely doing what I love.

How do you remain in positive spirits, despite the suffering you’ve seen?
I try to balance the bad with the good. I have to. We have to. Being beaten down with the suffering every day leads to burn out, compassion fatigue, or a dropping away from activism and the issues we care about. I suffered and recovered from PTSD because of what I’ve witnessed through shooting for campaigns and the We Animals project, so I have learned to take care of myself and to celebrate the good. We really all need to do this; find balance in our activism, and take self-care seriously. We can keep our optimism and our eyes on the goal by focusing on the good happening all around us, by supporting one another in our work and by celebrating change. Don’t forget change is happening, and it’s happening because of millions of compassionate people out there making small and big adjustments to their lives, things that will ease the suffering of animals. Celebrate the good. Keep your eye on the prize (which is animal liberation, of course!).

Rescued GorillaRescued Bear

What kind of effect have your images produced in people?
One of the best parts of We Animals for me is hearing and reading people’s responses to it. I get a lot of emails about the work and how it has changed people’s worlds. I know the photos are effective, and that’s part of what keeps me going. Many people have written to me about giving up meat after seeing and reading work from the We Animals site, and many have found a calling in activism as well. It’s pretty exciting!

Where is your work taking you next?
I continue to attend Pig Save vigils and will actually be documenting Melbourne Pig Save in early March, in Australia. I’ll be there for a month to work with various animal rights groups, as well as documenting rescue and sanctuary work. Then I’ll be in Senegal doing volunteer humanitarian work (photography) with a Canadian medical team, then from there, heading north to Europe to work with some great teams of investigators again. Lots going on! Liz Marshall’s film The Ghosts In Our Machine will be in theaters this year as well, so there will be a lot happening around that. It’s a strong film about the moral question of animals as property versus sentient being, and will be a force in bringing animal issues to the fore. I hope to be back in India by the end of the year, and I’ll continue to help and contribute to local and global campaigns as much as I can. The photos from the We Animals archive are made available to groups who are helping animals and furthering a message of compassion, so it’s great that the archive can continue to be useful even while I’m doing other things.

Jo-Anne McArthur with Orlando

Learn more at:
We Animals
Toronto Pig Save
The Ghosts In Our Machine

Story and interview by Julie Gueraseva
Photographs by Jo-Anne McArthur
Photo of Jo-Anne by Nick Ugliuzza

Monday, January 14, 2013

PORTRAIT OF A PAINTER: JUSTIN BUA

Justin Bua

JUSTIN BUA is a celebrated artist, with a best-selling collection of fine-art posters and a loyal, international fan base (over 27,000 likes on his Facebook page at last count!). His dynamic, intricate paintings have been displayed in solo shows at fine art institutions like LACMA (Los Angeles County Museum of Art ), and are in the private collections of the likes of Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, Eva Longoria and Christina Ricci. “Bua’s stylish renderings jump right at you, hit you between the eyes with their energy,” is how author Elmore Leonard once described his work. Justin’s illustrated books— “The Beat of Urban Art”- a visual journey through Justin’s youth in New York; and “The Legends of Hip Hop” – an homage to some of the biggest names in hip hop— are already considered classics. “Any opportunity I have, I draw,” says Justin. Indeed, if you follow him on Instagram, you are treated to a stream of new artwork- uploaded daily, sometimes multiple times a day. His nurturing rapport with his artistic young fans is inspiring. Having once been a professor at University of Southern California for 12 years, his upcoming art venture is a fitting return to his roots. Here, he gives us an exclusive glimpse and talks about his busy life.

Tell us about BUA University.
I have an online University that I’m going to be doing. I am pretty excited about that! I will be teaching 150 classes online. It’s going to be an amazing situation where I could kind of just go off… more than teaching, it’s a little bit more “edutainment”- fun and fantastic. You can download classes whenever, and it’s for all ages and levels. It’s interactive- if you do work that you want to show me, you shoot it off, I download it and provide a critique. The site will go live this summer.

Wow, sounds incredible! Talk about your art process a bit.
I work in a really old-school kind of way: I work the drawing up with thumbnails, and then I move to finished line drawing, then move to value keys, and then I move to color keys. Value keys tell me what my darkest dark and my lightest light is. Color keys which tells me the temperature, the time of day- is it sunny? is it overcast? is it sunset? I just keep working like that until I figure it out. It’s a very laborious kind of process. But I have to do it, since most of the time I’m not just doing portraits, I’m usually doing a whole scene, I’m creating an entire world and a place. It can take anywhere from a day to a couple of weeks, depending on the project.

And your heroes?
I have contemporary heroes like Ralph Steadman. And then I love Rembrandt. Rembrandt is one of my all-time favorites. Daumier is another one. George Bellows. I love Picasso, because he was such a crazy artist, and you really feel the love and spirit of what he does. I love a lot of graffiti writers—a tremendous art form. Saber is really great, a good friend of mine.

Studio

Your food choices must play a role in your hectic schedule. What does veganism mean to you?
I grew up on all the acronyms you could think of- McD, KFC, MSG. As I started to investigate and read Eric Schlosser’s “Fast Food Nation,” or John Robbins’ “Diet for a New America” or Howard Lyman’s ‘Mad Cowboy,” I started to feel like- wow, I was really kind of bamboozled! I felt like there was a certain hoax and poisonous lie that was permeating the reality that I was living. I almost felt angry, I thought, “this is insane.” I thought, “I’m angry, I’m not going to take it anymore. I’m going to DO something proactive”- which is really what veganism is. So- I’m not going to buy your steroid-antibiotic-poisonous-slaughtered-meat. But I’m rather going to support my local farmer, who is making a decent wage, who is growing food that is not harming the environment, not killing animals and it’s holistically better.

A friend of mine is an ex-Arizona State linebacker. I work out hard- I’ll turn up the volume, work out for two hours… functional strength, Crossfit, circuit training. And he’s like, “I’ve never meant anybody like you, I thought all vegans were kind of like “new age, woo woo, pretentious, privileged people.” Because a lot of people have that perception.

So some may be surprised by the connection between veganism and a counter-cultural art form like hip hop. Can you explain?
The real vegan story comes from the same place that the real hip hop story comes from, which is- “I’m going to look into what’s going on with the system, I’m going to evaluate it, I’m going to investigate it, and then I’m going to do something about it. And change it.” If you really look back at people like Afrika Bambaataa- he was the guy who was promoting veganism and vegetarianism, and if you ate pork, you would get beat down. Before I was even learning about it, kids like my friend Mr. Wiggles from the Rock Steady Crew, was already hip to veganism because of Bambaataa.

Real hip hop is counter-cultural, it’s always been a counter-cultural movement- like jazz. It started from the streets, it started as a means to communicate what was going on in New York City. It was street poetry about some of the social injustices of the world. It was about speaking what was really on your mind, because it came from a true place. And veganism in a lot of ways is: we’re not going to buy into what you are trying to sell us. We’re going to talk about it. We’re going to actually really believe in something that’s real.

Justin and Ruby

You and your partner—fellow artist, vegan and author Ruby Roth—have a garden at your home in LA. You also helped build a farm in Hawaii?
Noniland is the farm that I helped build in Kaui. Because of my green thumb, I taught [health guru] David Wolfe how to farm it. He was a bit naïve about how to plant trees—cacao trees in particular, because they need a lot of shade. He thought they needed to be in direct sunlight. His lack of knowledge about tree planting was so ironic, because he’s a genius botanist and super food guru but when it comes to gardening he’s a bit of a grass-assin nincompoop. However after a few days with me, he got on track!

Clearly, you and David are good friends. You even created a drink mix together?
Yes, it’s called “Immortal Machine,” and it has some of the best super foods ever like Cacao, Hemp, Lucuma, Maca and Ashwaganda. It tastes like Nestle Quick, but it’s all raw vegan and organic—might be the best drink mix ever!

You are not only a dietary vegan, but an ethical one as well. What is your view on fur- the sale of which was recently banned in West Hollywood?
Beautiful animals are tortured and murdered for their skin. So sad. If anyone in their right mind saw how they get fur, they wouldn’t wear fur. Its an evil industry.

Read our in-depth feature, “Eat, Paint, Love,” on Justin and Ruby in our Premier Issue page 37 (written by Stacy Gueraseva)

And to get the latest news on BUA University, follow Justin on Instagram.

Photographs of Justin Bua, Ruby Roth and their studio by Colin Hornett, exclusively for Laika Magazine.

Thursday, January 3, 2013

INSIDE LOOK: BEHIND THE COVER

Melissa

MELISSA SCHWARTZ is a prolific photographer. “I shoot A LOT,” she says. “In my opinion, that is the best way to get a really special shot. Most amazing shots are not planned, they are a moment that happens when the model forgets they are modeling.” Well, we definitely wound up with that “amazing shot” on the cover of Laika’s Premier Issue. Assisted by her right-hand man and fellow photographer Donovan Jenkins, Melissa captured a compelling portrait of 19-year-old college student Brandilyn Tebo. All three are Los Angeles-based vegans, who are active in the animal rights community. Melissa and Donovan produce the vGirls|vGuys multi-media project, and Brandilyn runs Veg Club at Occidental College, where she just declared herself as a Biology major. Here, they take us through the day of the cover shoot, and share their thoughts on a variety of topics…

Melissa, tell us about your technique.
I use a Nikon D3 camera, but I think technology is so good these days, one can get great shots with many kinds of cameras… A great shot is all about lighting and knowing your camera well enough to change things quickly. I use Alien Bees lights which are super affordable and portable. I like shooting in the studio for certain kinds of things, but I also like shooting on location. It really comes down to what the client wants.

And your working relationship with Donovan?
We work very well together. We consult with each other on set-ups. We have been good friends for years and years, and actually went vegan together when we met. He is working on his own portfolio now so I will be assisting for him in the future also.

Donovan, what led you to photography?
I grew up in a small town in Montana. After high school I joined the Army to be an infantry paratrooper and served two tours in Iraq. When I returned home to Montana in 2005, I was depressed and suffering from PTSD, so I started studying philosophy (ethics) and running a lot because I found those things helped me understand and deal with a lot of my troubling experiences from the war. Several months later I met Melissa and decided to move to Los Angeles. She is the one who introduced me to veganism, helped me give up all animal products, and she let me work with her in her photography studio as I finished going to school at UCLA. Eventually, after failing to find a job with my philosophy degree, I realized that I was much happier working as a photographer anyway. So, now I’m assisting Melissa with her work at Schwartzstudios, working with her on the vGirls|vGuys project, and working on my own photography business.

 

Melissa in the Studio

You guys shot at two different locations for the Laika cover shoot—both of them beautiful.
Melissa: Scouting is really important because you can’t just rely on a scene to look good without understanding how it looks at a certain time of day. We found two we liked before the shoot and we returned to both of them. However, the second location kind of caught us off guard. We had found what we thought was an abandoned truck to shoot with, but when we got there with Brandilyn it was gone! So we had to make do. But it was lucky that the other location we had already shot at was perfect. There was a little fog in the morning that diffused the light and made the location even better than the first time we saw it.
Donovan: Probably some of the most inspiring things for me are the experiences I have while out running in the mountains or riding my bike through the city. I found one of the locations for the Laika cover shoot one morning when I was out on a run.

Tell us about the day of the shoot.
Melissa: We started really early, about 5:30 or 6am and I think we ended close to 3pm. I definitely feel like we had a fun experience and all got to know each other better. I am really glad I got to meet Brandilyn, she is independently organizing a number of important endeavors for the movement.
Brandilyn: I think a lot of vegans tend to have that commonality and sense of community with one another- it has been a platform for many of my most wonderful friendships. We even went out to eat at a vegan restaurant after the shoot. It was connected to a grocery store called “Follow Your Heart.” It was around Halloween so we all shared cinnamon pumpkin pancakes and we’ve seen each other since the shoot at other vegan outings! They are way awesome people.

Brandilyn, what does your family think of your modeling career?
My mom was a model, so she has very mixed emotions about it. She knows what a great opportunity it could be for me, but she also knows that the industry is grueling and often terrible for self-esteem. None of my family wants me to be seen treated as a commodity or objectified in any way-they want me to retain my identity! Which is why it is awesome when I get to do things like this shoot, which support causes in which I believe. But I am a full time student with dreams far beyond the modeling world and no matter what, those come first.

 

Brandilyn

Donovan, with you being athletic, are people ever surprised to learn you’re vegan?
Less so today than they were several years ago. There are so many world class athletes promoting veganism now. Just last month I ran the Chimera 100-mile trail race in Southern California, and the race organizers provided both vegan and non-vegan food at all the aid stations along the course. It was awesome to see so many people choosing to eat the vegan meals at the race.

Athletes put more stress on their bodies and generally require more protein than the average person to stay healthy and strong. If you can’t get adequate protein from plants, I don’t know how there are so many vegans competing at the highest level in almost every sport. I don’t know how I could have the strength to run ultramarathons and lift weights. I rarely use protein supplements, but the other day I was reading through the reviews for Vega protein powder online and thought it was a great testament to plant proteins when athletes who identified themselves as meat eaters claimed over and over again that plant based proteins were better quality and gave them better results than any whey or other non-vegan protein. You don’t need meat!

Melissa, why are you an animal rights activist?
Because I can’t not be. I live in a world that is beyond unfair to animals. There is so much pain and suffering that humans are responsible for, and so many of us are unwittingly supporting animal abuse because we don’t even realize how our choices effect the animals. So now that I understand the situation I feel like I have no choice but to try to tell other people what I have learned.

Do you feel optimistic about a better future for the animals?
I absolutely do, and I think we will see it happen in our lifetimes. Though I think the ethical reasons are all that we should need, it will probably not happen out of purely ethical reasons; I am sure environmental, health and economic reasons will play a huge role in this change. Humanity cannot afford not to change. Period.

 

Learn more about Melissa Schwartz’s photography and activism at :
Schwartzstudios
vGirls|vGuys
…and read more about Brandilyn Tebo on page 62 of the Premier Issue.
Photo of Melissa and Donovan courtesy of Tony Radakovich
Photo of Brandilyn Tebo courtesy of Melissa Schwartz