- Captive by Jo-Anne McArthur
In recent years, the field of animal ethics and welfare reform has included the role of zoos and aquaria, which has stimulated close inquiry in popular, political, and scholarly culture. Captive, the follow-up project to We Animals by Canadian photojournalist Jo-Anne McArthur, examines the animals in these spaces that we temporarily "look at" for mere entertainment. McArthur's photography, as well as substantial narrative, demonstrates that this meaningless act of voyeurism serves only to fulfill a momentary curiosity, which diverts from any possible lasting appreciation or wonder. While Captive seeks to reveal the experiences of animals in zoos and aquaria from 20 countries and five continents, most of McArthur's photographic choices in this project are of zoos in central and eastern Europe. Critics may find fault with her selections of many of the confinement enclosures that ironically resemble images of war-torn concentration camps like Auschwitz and Birkenau. Several images expose bear, rhino, and olive baboons who live out their lives in isolation in wooden-like barracks separated by curly barbed wire.
While McArthur's contribution is largely visual, she does not mince words in this book. She documents her thoughts in seven subsections listed within one of the chapters titled "In the Field." Here she engages the reader in passionate and urgent language. Words used, such as unbearable, godforsaken, heart-wrenching, purposeless, despondent, cruel, degraded, pacing, empty eyes, and depravity, alarm the reader. There is no window dressing in the photographs or politically correct narrative segments. I sense that it is time in McArthur's life and work that she can no longer bear the pain of animal suffering. She ardently states, "I wonder again why it's 2017 and I'm still fighting this battle, still among a minority of people appealing for change" (p. 100). Captive embodies the urgency of her appeal to view the lives of captive animals from their perspective. McArthur's hope is that we no [End Page 84] longer passively "tip our hats" as we walk on by. She challenges the reader to stay at one area in a zoo for several hours and see how they are truly living: in imprisonment.
McArthur takes a risk, the risk of being too emotional in her photojournalistic mission. But herein lies the bravery of her work. McArthur argues that keeping animals in captivity for sheer pleasure is morally wrong. McArthur commands that we must stop the unethical practice of removing animals from their natural habitats, families, and climates. She does not tiptoe around naming zoos' "natural habitats" what they are—prisons. She describes the living beings in them as inmates, incarcerated, and those who have simply gone "mad" due to boredom, isolation, and futile attempts at escape. She argues that we must refuse to see zoos as an excuse for education or conservation, which she describes largely as propagandistic efforts (p. 100). McArthur states many animals are paired solely for breeding and maintaining genetic diversity, practices that lead to stressful outcomes and genetic surpluses, including situations where animals are killed due to a failure of species conservation, such as Marius the Giraffe at the Copenhagen Zoo (p. 36). While sensational culling has made the headlines, quantitative statistics, even in a small sampling, would cement McArthur's argument.
Many of McArthur's photographs are as cold and hard in the feelings they evoke. Like human prisons, materials utilized to create the animals' "homes" are made from stone, metal, tile, concrete, cinderblock, iron, padlocks, and ropes that hold the animals "in" and away from any type of freedom. These materials are formed into high impenetrable walls, glass barriers, moats, steel gates, trapdoors, and cyclone fencing. Most areas of confinement resemble inevitably cramped quarters lacking in height and width for larger animals. And spaces for smaller animals, such as scorpions, birds, and lemurs, are no better, many living out their lives in cages, baskets, jars, and Tupperware storage bins. Many images depict the telling displacement of an animal from...