John McRae – Lip Service
Solo exhibition of recent photographs at ACAF ART TERMINAL, St Leonards, Sydney
Curated by Jonathan Turner
February 22-May 16, 2014
Known to many for his revealing portrait of Margaret Olley, Sydney photographer John McRae has
combined a successful commercial career with his work as a photographic artist.
The male gaze is a minefield, and McRae uses this theme to question issues of gender, sexuality
and physical attraction. Best known for his hard-hitting portraiture, McRae presents “Lip Service”,
a solo show as part of the inaugural exhibition at the new ACAF art space in St Leonards, North
In his exploration of the dualistic concept of masculinity/femininity, McRae’s portraits tease our
obsession with self. He treats his subjects with dignity, yet there is always an underlying sense of
furtive play, and intimate invitation.
The show includes portraits of dancers, athletes and models spot-lit against dark backgrounds,
taken in Malta, Beirut, Tel Aviv, Rome, New York and Sydney. In this era of visual short-cuts and
commercial exploitation, McRae realizes that the objectification of the male form can go both
ways. He sometimes mixes his portraits with religious symbolism and photographs of meat displayed
in markets. He pits attitudes towards “sins of the flesh” against the spiritual short-hand of
instant intolerance often proposed by opposing religions.
“Lip Service” also features recent images of McRae’s long-time collaborator, the Olympic gold-medal
diver Matthew Mitcham. For eight years, McRae has been documenting Mitcham’s development
from an uncertain youth to a self-confident, international sportsman. Mitcham reveals himself to be
an accomplished actor, at ease with projection of physical prowess and emotional vulnerability.
The atmosphere in McRae’s photography is purposely heightened. His work spans staged photography
and sequential narrative, as represented by his brand-new, eye-catching multiple pictures.
This includes Lip-Service – Diego, a grid of close-ups showing a handsome Italian fitness-trainer
making a series of over-exaggerated facial expressions. Diego re-enacts many emotions – from
“Surprise”, to “Joy”, to “Confusion”, to “Anger”. It is as though the viewer is lip-reading the passionate
conversation of an overly expressive Italian man, trapped in an eternal passport-photo booth.
Organized by Rome-based curator Jonathan Turner, John McRae’s latest exhibition pulls all the
Alongside Lip Service, ACAF (Australia China Art Foundation) presents Degeneration, a largescale
show of works incorporating video, photography, animation, painting and sculpture by 10
Chinese contemporary artists and film-makers. Degeneration is curated by Shanghai-based Italian
art critic Mariagrazia Costantino, featuring recent works by Chen Wei, Chen Zhou, Chen Ran,
Guan Xiao, Hu Yun, Li Ming, Li Ran, Lu Yang, Ma Qiusha and Ye Linghan, never seen before in