SPOT THE ARAB – Opens in Ballarat on March 1

John McRae – Spot the Arab – Amirah 2017 & Jaden 2018

John McRae will exhibit his latest body of work Spot the Arab for the first time in Australia.  Images from McRae’s Spot the Arab series were shown in June 2017 in Rome, at the cutting-edge Italian gallery  Il Ponte Contemporanea.  This exhibition took place in the centre of the “Eternal City”, close to the Vatican, in the heart of the Jewish Ghetto.

Name:    Spot the Arab – John McRae

Venue:    Backspace Gallery, Ballarat, Australia

Dates:     Exhibition runs from March 1-18 , 2018

                    Opening Thursday March 1, from 6pm – 8pm

Backspace Gallery hours: Thursday – Sunday, 12 – 4pm, The artist will be present for the duration of the exhibition.

The closing weekend of the exhibition will coincide with Harmony Fest (March 17-26), White Night Ballarat (Saturday March 17,  from 4pm to 2 am) and Ballarat Cultural Diversity Week (March 14 – 25).

Note: the Backspace Gallery will remain open from 4pm to 2am on March 17, as part of White Night Ballarat.

Address:          Huyghue House,

                               Alfred Deakin Place (Camp Street) Ballarat

                               Owned and operated by the City of Ballarat Arts and Cultural Development team

The City of Ballarat respectfully acknowledges the Wadawurrung and Dja Dja Wurrung people  – traditional custodians of the land.

John McRae – Spot the Arab series – Vanity Fair 2017

Artist Statement:

Spot the Arab challenges the viewer to identify who among the line-up identifies as Arab.  I query if this is such a relevant question in the first place.  How complicated life becomes when such things are treated as important.…maybe it’s more interesting to just experience the actual person in front of you, no matter how they are “dressed”, and to leave it at that.

Spot the Arab is a project based on portraiture, as a summary of various themes, ideas and concepts aligned to how I reflect upon contemporary issues of religion, race, gender, orientation, nationality and freedom. I present this work in a game-like yet very serious manner. It is a topical celebration of diversity, with a powerful message about tolerance.

Following 9/11 we have seen a growth in the stigma surrounding the idea of Arab/Muslim/Middle-Eastern, driven by incessant, hounding imagery of the “terrorist”. I resent this repeated, visual conditioning, which occurs every time you turn on the television or open a newspaper. It is easy to make fake computations and lose your ability to comprehend the subtleties and differences…so that you may no longer see the actual person standing in front of you.  How often does this occurs in all areas of our society?  How often do we close down communication as a result?  I decided to take this particular stereotype and use it to draw attention to the insanity of discrimination.

This show has been built around a photo installation, a retrospective of my portraits since 2002 on the theme of the illusions and stereotypes of what is an Arab today.  It looks at a selection of people I have photographed over the past decade in numerous countries and from different religious and ethnic backgrounds.  In most cases I have imposed Middle-Eastern clothing onto my subjects (who may otherwise wear jeans and a t-shirt) and have asked them to enact the role of what they consider an Arab might be. The sitters include men, women and transgender people in the “guise” of Arabs and dressed accordingly.  Spot the Arab focuses on social fictions of femininity/masculinity, recurring themes in my work.

At the end of the portrait session I asked each subject to exactly describe how they identify, since in this way, we can over-ride the preconceptions of imposed racism and prejudice….and whether they identify as “Arab” in any way. This gives additional weight to the complexity of each portrait.

For example, Ali, a Lebanese-Australian national raised in Paris but who is currently based in London, has frequently posed for me over the past decades. He provides a sharp description of how he defines his own identity.

“My ethnicity is Arab, I see myself as Semitic too. I also  have Persian lineage,” Ali explains. “Gender is very fluid in the male body that I adore, so I project the idea of Macho Male. My religion: Agnostic, Neo-pagan, Baphomet Worshipper, Hermetic Qabalist, Neo-Platonic, Sacred Whore (I go as ‘London Arab Master’ these days). I love Shia-Islam too.”

I tend to create works in series, often spanning different continents and time-lines. This introduces a multi-faceted and shifting perspective, never a single cultural viewpoint.  My specific fascination is to use my camera to break down stereotypes and visual codes, more important today than ever.  In my portraits, I try to capture sly or hidden messages, and then juxtapose these with more blatant aspects of drama, styling and emotion, whether it is authentic or staged.  It is always about intimacy versus theatricality.

John McRae, 2017

Lena & Obed, 2018

Spot the Arab with be running with a number of community based events which are taking place in Ballarat concurrently:

– White Night Ballarat (Saturday March 17,  from 4pm to 2 am)

– Harmony Fest (March 17-26)

– Cultural Diversity Week (March 14 – 25).


Spot the Arab will challenge the viewer to identify who of the various models, dressed in Middle Eastern costume, actually identify as Arab. Viewers will also be invited to participate in the SELFIE STAND, an area in the gallery reserved for those who wish to take a selfie dressed in the Middle Eastern clothing (provided) in front of an Arabian backdrop. The viewer is then encouraged to post this image on social media with the hashtag #spotthearab. Once posted, the artist will print the resulting images and then adhere them to a wall of the Backspace Gallery, so that the visitors can become part of the exhibition.

John McRae – Spot the Arab series – Elle & Baptiste, 2015

For further information about the exhibition go to:

See also the on-line article from “Genius Magazine” (European based arts and culture magazine)

John McRae: “Spot The Arab”


Hayes Theatre – The Room Upstairs

I had the pleasure of photographing production shots for the “Off Broadway” sensation, “The Room Upstairs”.

I would certainly recommend treating yourself to a night of pure entertainment and head to the Hayes Theatre….details below.

Music, Book and Lyrics by Max Vernon


Presented by Invisible Wall Productions and Sugary Rum productions in association with Hayes Theatre Co

Directed by Shaun Rennie
Musical Direction by Nicholas Griffin
Choreography by Cameron Mitchell
Set Design by Isabel Hudson
Costume Design by Anita Yavich
Lighting Design by Trent Suidgeest
Sound Design by Neil McLean

Australian PremiereCast includes Henry Brett, Thomas Campbell, Nick Errol, Ryan Gonzalez, Martelle Hammer, Anthony Harkin, David Hooley, Markesha McCoy, Madison McKoy and Stephen Madsen

The View Upstairs pulls you inside the UpStairs Lounge, a vibrant 70s gay bar in New Orleans. The forgotten bar regulars come to life when a young fashion designer from 2017 buys the now abandoned space and is transported back in time. He gets to know the joys and struggles of this community and in turn learns about his place in the world.

 From the opening piano chords of this Off-Broadway sensation, the five-piece band and cast of ten blast into the glam rock world of the 1970s. In our ever-changing world, this show looks at the then and now to explore our ideas of love, regret, defiance and resilience. The music will give you goosebumps, the story will make you both laugh and cry. See why Ru Paul said the show was “FABULOUS! It was fantastic.”


MMXVII Pigment inkjet on cotton rag, 112cm X 80cm Edition of 9 (2AP)

Every year I photograph Matthew Mitcham, Australia’s gold-medal Olympic diver, award-winning cabaret performer and television entertainer, in my studio.

Each portrait is taken under similar conditions.  In a sense these portraits are snapshots of the relationship between photographer and artist’s muse and they continue to track the development of this young man. 

MMXVII marks the 10th portrait and the 10th year of this ongoing series.  That’s a decade!

How time flies……….

The complete sequence can be seen at…/annual-matthew-mitcham-portraits/

The series is printed by the artist in an edition of 9, with 2 artist proofs, and is available for purchase.

Contact: John McRae mb: 0419 619 161 e: w:




I wish everyone a really successful and fun filled 2018.


Well I’ve made a few of those “New Year Resolutions”….one of them is to be more active on this blog and on social media.   I petered out somewhat towards the end of last year, but I am picking up the ball again and here’s to a more regular blog entry.


In fact, I am very positive about this year.  It’s going to be a good one….I feel it in my waters (don’t you hate that expression?).   I am looking forward to working again with my fantastic clients and to see what surprises are in store, what we can create together this year.  New clients I haven’t worked with yet….I look forward to meeting you.




Matt struts “the boards” again with his new show, “Under the Covers”.

These days, Matt has traded the diving board for another kind of “board”, the boards of the stage, as they say.  I had the pleasure of shooting some production shots at the dress rehearsal and performance of the latest addition to his cabaret repertoire.

Under the Covers has been created by the same team who devised Matthew’s previous multi-award-winning musical comedy, Twists & Turns, namely Matthew together with award-winning director Nigel Turner-Carroll and international cabaret sensation Spanky (aka Rhys Morgan), with accompaniment by Matthew Ogle.

I thoroughly enjoyed myself while shooting this brand new, sparkling, feel-good production.  Matt’s talent is seemingly limitless.  At times, it was difficult to keep focus on the job at hand. I found myself caught up in the jokes, the songs, the clever parody between the two main protagonists and the general infectious sense of fun.  

However…. I concentrated on getting the shots and decided to return another time to sit back and be entertained as one of the punters in the seats.

Here are some of the shots taken at the Hayes Theatre in Sydney in mid-September. If you want a good night out, check the performance schedule, and go to see Under the Covers. It will put a smile on your face.

Behind the scenes in the dressing room before the show……..


Written by Matthew Mitcham and Nigel Turner-Carroll

Director –  Nigel Turner-Carroll

Musical Director –  Andrew Bevis

Choreographer –  Holl Sheils

Lighting Designer –  Kym Halpin

Production Manager –  Lachlan Fletcher

Performed by –  Matthew Mitcham, Matthew Ogle, Rhys Morgan


I am pleased to announce that GENIUS People Magazine in Italy has published an article about my ongoing Spot The Arab project, aligned to my exhibition at Galleria Il Ponte Contemporanea in Rome.

GENIUS People Magazine is a topical, bilingual publication based in Trieste in northern Italy, appearing both on-line and in print form, guided by Editor-in-Chief Francesco La Bella, and Project Manager Mariaisabella Musulin. It focuses primarily on contemporary arts and culture.  

Click on the following link to read the article, written by Jonathan Turner:



After spending almost a month in Europe working on various projects, I flew into Sydney a few days ago.  I seem to be more jet-lagged than I can remember previously, waking up in the middle of the night with the feeling that there is some kind of grey veil over my brain.  In contrast, on the way over to Rome via Abu Dhabi, I experienced almost no jet lag and I was firing on all cylinders the very next day. They do say that jet lag is always worse in one of the directions….I can’t remember which one, but from this experience, I would have to say it’s going from East to West!

The time away was well spent.  In fact it was amazingly spent!

Firstly, my exhibition, “Spot The Arab”,  at Galleria Il Ponte Contemporanea in Rome (see previous “blog” entries further down this page) was extremely well-received.  I would like to thank Giuliano and Bruno, the two directors of the gallery, for their support and creativity in making the event such a resounding success. Who would have thought….an exhibition about prejudice and stigma, using the stereotypes of what an Arab looks like, staged in the Jewish Ghetto, in the home of the Catholic Church, staged by an Australian photographer. Anything is possible!

Jonathan being extravagant on the streets of Rome during the Pride March.

A big thank you to Jonathan Turner, my host in Rome. He is not only is an amazing curator and art critic (his input to my exhibition in terms of providing advice and various writings was critical to its success), but also the most generous and welcoming friend and host. He is also an accomplished cook and I was privileged to eat at one of the best tables in all of the Eternal City.

View from Jonathan’s terrace, Trastevere.
Jonathan serving one of his delicious pastas….

Next, I flew from Rome to Israel.  I was asked to stage a fashion shoot as a practical pre-text to get me to the Holy Land.  I shot for Refael, a stylish fashion boutique in one of the swanky parts of Tel Aviv. The shoot went very well and everyone was happy, including the designer, the model and the stylists.

The rest of the time I spent visiting parts of Tel Aviv (including a day splayed out on the wonderful beach that stretches the length of the city) and then Jerusalem and the Old City.  I have visited Jerusalem before…but I never tire of the magic of this city and always try to make a point of wandering its streets and market place.  A trip to Israel wouldn’t be complete without a meal along the sea-front at the old port of Jaffa, where the appetizers are brought out almost the instant you sit down, filling the table with all varieties of middle-eastern delights.  I am always completely entertained by the voracious efficiency of the waiting staff, darting backwards and forwards at lightening speed, clearing the dishes from an entire table of 6, plates and glasses stacked and piled in the air, in one go!  A big thank you to my host, Nitzan whose generosity abounds, as well as my dear friends Fabien  and Refael, who made my stay such a wonderful and enriching experience.

Sums it up really…….
Nitzan, Tel Aviv
The “souk” in the Old City of Jerusalem

Nitzan, Tel Aviv
Fabien lights a candle in the Church of the Holy Sepulchre

After pigging-out on 5 days of hummus, I flew back to Rome for some more Insalata Caprese which, by the way, I can never get enough of. It doesn’t get much better than fresh, delicious Italian tomatoes, fresh basil, the most superb mozzarella di bufala from Naples, drenched with virgin olive oil.  I think everyone, including Jonathan, was over my obsession with this dish by the end of my stay.

Marvic eyeing off the Porchetta

Dinner with friends

My exhibition is still running and I was asked to speak at a gallery visit organised by Giuliana Stella, an eminent art critic, curator and educator. This went very well. It was interesting for me to be able to interact with students from the Academy of Fine Arts and and members of the public, answer questions and hear thoughtful statements relating to my work.  A big thank you to Giuliana for organising this event.

Giuliana pictured addressing the students

Finally, the end of the trip was approaching.  I hurriedly made sure I had seen the most important things on my list.. .this included a visit to Naples and Pompeii….incredible!  A quick trip to London to catch up with old friends….thank you Fadi. 

Typical London….

And during the final week, the chance to meet up with more acquaintances from Italy, Scotland, Bosnia, Spain, Palestine, Canada and old friends who flew in from Malta and beyond. Thank you Marvic, Davide and Roderick.

Sundown over the Colosseum with friends

Finally, a big thank you to all the people who welcomed me with such goodwill and openness during my travels and who contributed to the joys of the whole experience from start to finish.  You know who you are.  I also appreciate all my friends and clients here in Australia who I may have inconvenienced through my lack of presence over the past month.  Thanks for waiting and allowing me the time.  

I’m back and ready for the next chapter……


My bags are packed and I’m sitting on the sofa, waiting for the taxi to take me to Fumincino where I will board my return flight to Sydney via Abu Dhabi.

What a wonderful stay in the Eternal City! 

A huge thank you to all the people and friends that made this trip such a wonderful experience from start to finish.  I promise to pass on all the goodwill and love that was so freely shared with me, to the people I meet along my continuing travels.

Until the next time take care Roma!


London on a good day – stunning weather

I was lucky enough to have the opportunity to visit London.

I visited some of the iconic landmarks in  this grand lady’s cache….always impressed by the constant reminders of my Australian culture’s roots.  I always felt some of these elements were so out of place in the hot desert-like climate of my childhood (the carefully manicured botanical gardens devoid of native plants, for example), but seeing all this “English” in the climate, light and environment it evolved in suddenly made a lot more sense to me.

Sadly, the events on the Tower of London took place during my stay.  Long live London!

Contemplating London….

FLOOR TALK – Arabs in the Jewish Ghetto in Rome

Jonathan Turner, Giuliana Stella and the students of the Accademia delle Belle Arti di Roma

On May 30, John McRae presented his Spot The Arab exhibition to a group of art and architecture students from the Accademia delle Belle Arti di Roma. He gave a floor talk about his working methods and his subject matter to 50 students attending the courses of Allestimento Spazi Espositive (Exhibition Space Design) and Metodologia della Progettazione (Project Methodology), under the tutelage of Professor Giuliana Stella. Australian curator Jonathan Turner then gave a tour of the large-scale Blow-Up exhibition at Galleria Il Ponte Contemporanea, also in the company of Rome’s leading pulp fiction novelist Pier Francesco Grasselli (Ho Scaricato Miss Italia, and All’Inferno ci vado in Porsche).

Pier Francesco Grasselli, Author