I just spent four days in Tel Aviv, working on a photoshoot for the upcoming Refael Boutique, focused on creating a new portfolio of images capturing contemporary womens fashion, combining style and minimalism with a flamboyant edge. Together with rising star Refael and stylist Oded, and the young Israeli model, Hannah, we shot a sequence of studio interiors and street scenes under the midday sun.
A historical survey of international photography, featuring the work of John McRae.
Staged in the prestigious Galleria Il Ponte Contemporanea in the centre of the ancient city of Rome, Blow-Up is a review of a century of image-making, studying the innovations and dynamic nature of photography. Organized to coincide with the 2017 Venice Biennale, the Rome exhibition is entitled Blow-Up after the classic 1966 film by Michelangelo Antonioni, in which a photographer believes he has unwittingly captured a murder with his camera, in an ambiguous image lurking at the edge of the frame. The exhibition, curated by Giuliano Matricardi, also traces more than 20 years of the gallery’s activity in research in contemporary photography.
Blow-Up includes important photograph-based works by Nobuyoshi Araki (Japan), Matteo Basilè (Italy), David Byrne (USA), Erwin Blumenfeld (Germany), Sylvie Fleury (France), Thomas Glassford (UK), Nan Goldin (USA), Matthias Herrmann (Austria), Fritz Kok (Netherlands), Myriam Laplante (Bangladesh/Canada), John McRae (Australia), Francesca Martì (Spain), Tracey Moffatt (Australia), Erwin Olaf (Netherlands), Dino Pedriali (Italy), Maria Pizzi (Italy), Katharina Sieverding (Germany), Melati Suryodarmo (Indonesia), Inez van Lamsweerde (Netherlands) and Baron Wilhelm Von Gloeden (Germany). This multi-layered exhibition runs through mid-September, 2017.
The exhibition opening on May 18, 2017, was attended by many local and international figureheads, including artists (Francesco Impellizzeri, Myriam Laplante, Francesca Marti’, Jebila Okongwu, Maria Pizzi, Renato Grome, Francesca Tulli), collectors and journalists, as well as Roman nobility, designers, curators (Achille Bonito Oliva, Gianluca Marziani, Giuliana Stella, Jonathan Turner, Luca Barreca), the fashion crowd and many of McRae’s friends from Italy, Spain, Malta, Scandinavia, Australia and beyond (Laura D’Ambra, Stefano d’Argenzio, Federico Assenza, Marvic Camilleri, Chiara Cavarra, Stefano Cigada, Salahuddin Khan, Lorenzo Logi, Vittorio Mango, Maria Antonia Oliver, Vincenzo Persi, Rosa Purchas, Simona Rossi).
The exhibition features a solo show by Sydney artist John McRae. His ongoing “Spot the Arab” series, one work of which is currently hanging in the contemporary portraiture show at the Australian National Portrait Gallery in Canberra, is a suite of photographs exploring the stereotypes and prejudices of our attitudes towards Muslims today, McRae’s portraits are accompanied by a critical text by curator Jonathan Turner, who has regularly worked with McRae for the past decade. This is McRae’s fifth exhibition at Galleria Il Ponte Contemporanea, the show is organized with the support of the Australian Embassy in Rome.
In Blow-Up, Francesca Marti’ is represented by two works: a diptych of black-and-white photographs of Cuban landscapes in torn canvas frames from her Tears series, and a new photograph from her series Cities in a Crooked Line showing a street-scene in Saigon, printed on zinc plate, then partly crushed. Tracey Moffatt, who has been selected as the artist in the Australian Pavilion at the 2017 Biennale di Venezia, is represented in Blow-Up by three older photographs. Meanwhile, a series of vintage prints by Baron Wilhelm von Gloeden (1890s), Erwin Blumenfeld (1940s), and from Dino Pedriali (1970s), includes Pedriali’s quartet of cultural figureheads: black-and-white portraits of dancer Rudolf Nureyev, sculptor George Segal, film director PierPaolo Pasolini and artist Andy Warhol.
A section of the Blow-Up show is dedicated to photo-based works by eight women artists from the stable of Galleria Il Ponte Contemporanea, all of whom have been featured in previous editions of the Venice Biennale.
John McRae– Spot The Arab – Galleria Il Ponte Contemporanea, Rome
Text by Jonathan Turner
Spot the Arab is a project based on portraiture by Australian artist John McRae, as a summary of various themes, ideas and concepts aligned to how hereflects upon contemporary issues of religion, race, gender, orientation, nationality and freedom. He presents his work at Galleria Il Ponte Contemporanea in a game-like yet very serious manner. It is a topical celebration of diversity, with a powerful message about tolerance.
“The solo show has been built around a large photo installation, a retrospective of my portraits since 2002 on the theme of the illusions and stereotypes of what is an Arab today. This looks at 20 people, photographed over the past decade in numerous countries and from different religious and ethnic backgrounds. Each person poses with props, often imposed by me, and enacts the role of what they consider an Arab to be today. The sitters include men, women and transgender people in the “guise” of Arabs, Muslims or people of the various factions of Islamic faith. It focuses on social fictions of femininity/masculinity, recurring themes in my work. I have asked each model to exactly describe how they identify, since in this way, we can over-ride preconceptions, stigma and prejudice.”
McRae works within an international context, purposely blurring the lines between accepted norms while questioning such topics as nationalism, nomadism/migration and gender roles. In the past, he has created photo series in New York, Italy, Malta, Lebanon and Shanghai, as part of his complex research into the concept of shifting border-lines, psychological frontiers and the role of the portrait in society today. His work confronts the politics of imagery.
“I tend to create works in series, often spanning different continents and time-lines, so that my shows introduce a multi-faceted and shifting perspective, never a single cultural viewpoint. My specific fascination is using the camera to break down stereotypes and visual codes, and today, this is more important 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.”
Ali, a Lebanese-Australian national raised in Paris but who is currently based in London, has frequently modeled for McRae over the past decades. He, for example, provides a sharp description of how he defines his own identity. This gives additional weight to the complexity of McRae’s portraits.
“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 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.”
“Only some of the models actually consider themselves to be Arab,” adds McRae. “Others from a broad variety of faiths have personally told me their open views of tolerance across border-lines. By mixing it up, this show aims to diffuse. In the current climate, I am drawing people’s attention to the aspects of how fear can be imposed or transmitted through a model wearing a simple costume, head scarf or beard, and how society and the media can radicalise the innocent.”
This is John McRae’s fifth exhibition at Galleria Ill Ponte Contemporanea in Rome since 2005. John McRae’s work is primarily portrait-based, as demonstrated by his solo shows at GrantPirrie Gallery (Sydney), Mate (Berlin), ACAF (Shanghai and Sydney) and The Center (New York); such group shows as La Folia (Madness) curated by Achille Bonito Oliva for the 2010 in Ravello Festival in Italy, and Sailor Style at the National Maritime Museum in Sydney; his inclusion in many Australian portrait prizes (People’s Choice winner 2013 Australian National Portrait Gallery Prize, for his portrait of the late Margaret Olley), the Blake Prize, Olive Cotton Award, Josephine Ulrick & Win Schubert Award; and the publication of his imagery in numerous books and magazines in Australia, China, Germany, USA, Italy, France and beyond.
One work from McRae’s Spot The Arab series (Matuse) is currently featured as a finalist in the 2017 National Photographic Portrait Prize at the Australian National Portrait Gallery in Canberra, and it was also included in the recent thematic exhibition at the Casoria Contemporary Art Museum near Naples, entitled “You no speak Americano original – Integration, discrimination, racism”.
John McRae explains this portrait. “In my studio, I gave Matuse a bag full of clothing and asked him if he would select a “costume” and put it on, which he did. Wearing simple Arab dress, I intentionally depict Matuse as a metaphor for certain prejudices and negative attitudes, conscious or unconscious, that our society at times has been conditioned to project. Here, I have purposely but subtly imposed such terms as “radical” and “fundamental” onto my willing subject, a modern young man who normally goes about in jeans and a t-shirt. Matuse is of Middle Eastern descent, and he is also a practicing Muslim. He confronts the camera with openness, calmness and stillness. For him, the clothing is merely fabric, and not a signifier of any political stance or pretext. He also remains an honest young Aussie.”
Matuse is a contemporary musician and performer who calls himself a ‘spiritual rapper’. In McRae’s portrait, it is interesting how the regal symmetry, the formal pose, the ornamental frame and Matuse’s austere attitude make him look stately and in command. He demonstrates an imperial detachment. But he is not expressionless. He approaches McRae’s camera lens with a direct confront. Any initial assumptions about who he might be are totally over-ruled.
John McRae: “As a viewer, can you tell who is Arab, who identifies as Arab, and in the end, how is this important, anyway?”
Spot The Arab, as part of the larger Blow – Up exhibition of contemporary photography at Galleria Il Ponte Contemporanea, is supported by the Australian Embassy in Rome
My work has been included in an exhibition about integration at the CAM Museum in Italy.
A handmade poster using my photograph of Matuse – Portrait of a Young Aussie, has been included in a new group exhibition at the Casoria Contemporary Art Museum, near Naples in Italy. Promoted as the biggest exhibition ever realized on the theme of integration, “You no speak Americano original” aims at highlighting issues of discrimination and racism. It functions as an open call to all artists of any nationality, race, religion, age and sexual orientation to fight against intolerance. The exhibition is curated by CAM museum director Antonio Manfredi, in an institution which often specifically looks at the how contemporary artists view the conflicting worlds of politics, corruption and crime. The publicity poster for the show is in the form of an ironic portrait of Donald Trump as Uncle Sam, recruiting all artists to join his private army of distrust and racism.
The exhibition “You no speak Americano original” includes posters commenting on the themes of racism and prejudice, made by more than 100 artists, primarily from Italy, but also from Argentina, Australia (me), Austria, Belgium, Egypt, France, Germany, Kosovo, Macedonia, Malta, Norway, Portugal, Romania, Spain, Turkey, UK and USA.
On Friday afternoon I drove down to Canberra with a friend for the launch and announcement of the winner of the 2017 National Photographic Portrait Prize at the National Portrait Gallery, This year marked the 4th occasion that one of my portraits has been shortlisted as a finalist in the prize.
I really appreciate being selected as part of this exhibition. It comes with some standing since it’s a National Prize (this year 49 works were selected from a field of 3,000)) and also it takes place in the esteemed premises of the National Portrait Gallery in our nation’s capital, Canberra. Thank goodness for GPS with all the circular traffic conditions.
As one of the selected finalists, I arrived a 5pm for a reserved viewing of the exhibition. This meant I had a chance to look at the works hanging in the lofty halls of the gallery without a crowd. It also gives you a chance to meet some of the other 49 finalists before the speeches and the announcement of the winner.
My selected work is a recent portrait of my friend, Matuse…see below.
Portrait of a young Aussie, Matuse Peace, 2016
This is a portrait of a young Australian man. It was taken in my studio earlier this year.
I gave Matuse a bag full of clothing and asked him if he would select a “costume” and put it on, which he did.
In this portrait of Matuse in simple Arab dress, I intentionally depict him as a metaphor for certain prejudices and negative attitudes, conscious or unconscious, that our society at times has been conditioned to project. Here, I have purposely but subtly imposed such terms as “radical” and “fundamental” onto my willing subject, a young man who normally goes about in jeans and a t-shirt
Matuse is of Middle Eastern descent, and he is also a practicing Muslim. He confronts the camera with openness, calmness and stillness. For him, the clothing is merely fabric, and not a signifier of any political stance or pretext.
He also remains an honest young Aussie.
At 6pm the doors open to the invited public. I met Matuse, the model in my portrait, at the front of the gallery, together with a couple of other friends and we entered.
The winner was announced…and bravo to Gary Grealy for his beautiful portrait of Richard Morecroft and Alison Mackay. Highly commended was John Benavente, Renaissance Rose and Brett Canet-Gibson, Mastura. (See NPG Portrait Prize)
After the announcements everyone was invited into the exhibition area to see the finalists’ works. It is a great privilege to observe the reaction of the public to your work. I love over-hearing the comments and looking at the faces of the visiters as they consider the portrait. Matuse was equally engaged, curiously observing the public’s reaction to his image. It was fun watching the visiters slowly come to the realisation that the young man wearing jeans and a base-ball cap, standing nearby, was in fact the stately looking model in the portrait. Some people asked him questions. Kuei, the model in the neighbouring work by Kellie Leczinska, then referred to Matuse as “The Prince of Egypt”.
All in all it was a special evening and a great event. It’s refreshing to see such a high standard of excellence in photographic portraiture showcased in such a beautiful space. Afterwards all the finalists and their friends were invited to a more relaxed event, so we could meet and mingle, where relationships and new connections can be formed. The next day several talks were organised at the National Portrait Gallery in relation to the prize. It was wonderful to hear from the 2017 winner, Gary Grealy, George Fetting (accomplished photographer and 2017 judge) and Elizabeth Looker (2016 winner) at the “Light Effects” talk.
A big thank you to Crowne Plaza Hotel for offering a night at their hotel as part of being a finalist. Also a big thank you to all the work and creativity by those involved, for establishing such a prize and such a successful event. This includes the generous sponsors and staff of the NPG, as well as the judges who had their work cut out for them…Penelope Grist, Assistant Curator, National Portrait Gallery; Dr Sarah Engledow, Curator, National Portrait Gallery; George Fetting, guest judge, photographer.
I had the pleasure of spending the weekend at Hardwicke, the horse stud near Yass owned by my friend Philippa Torlonia, who divides her time between the bucolic pastures of Australia and the cobble-stoned frenzy of Rome. I snapped a few shots of the this beautiful landscape, and several magnificent thoroughbreds. The farm also produces excellent olive oil in a business operated by Philippa’s son Charles de Nanteuil, or Charley as we call him. As well as the award-winning La Barre extra-virgin olive oil, his company produces and distributes a range of infused oils, vinegars and condiments. My personal La Barre favourites: lemon-infused olive oil, blood plum finishing vinegar and their classic Worcestershire sauce.
In the wake of the gaffes at the 2017 Oscars, JONATHAN TURNER provides the commentary and presents the awards, maintaining his unofficial prerogative to announce the wrong winners.
Once again, Mardi Gras has come and gone. And once again, an international crew attended our annual Garry Scale Memorial Fruit Stand on Flinders Street. With impeccable tardiness, Garry Scale arrived late. This year, the viewing stand was further protected from the elements and riff-raff thanks to Lachlan’s excellent Do-It-Yourself capabilities, and a shocking pink marquee. Lachlan said he liked the scene at pre-Parade Bunnings on Saturday morning, with squadrons of poofs assembling floats on utes, working in the parking lane normal reserved for legit carpenters and plumbers.
Live from the Parade
2017 was a parade in celebration of gay Tradies, furbies, nurses with over-sized pills, pin-ups, twinks, Ricky Martin, Wonder Woman, mirror balls, gaybies, transgender school-kids, Andy Warhol, otters, unicorns, corporate bankers, balloons, Xena the Warrior Princess, that cute Tarzan guy carrying the ACON flag on his dick, firemen and other strippers.
Different floats were flamboyantly dedicated to different countries – Brazil, Canada, Indonesia, Israel, Slovenia, a floating island of Polynesians, the Tiwi Island Sistagirls in ceremonial garb, Ireland, Finland, Scotland, Thailand and The Netherlands as our orange-clad ambassadors to the free world.
We screamed at our glamorous Mardi Gras Ambassadors Cindy Pastel, Trevor Ashley and cheesy Bob Downe riding in their rainbow-painted drop-top Holdens. Proud American country-singer Steve Grand also drove past. He has recently been complaining that people don’t take him seriously as a singer, and we only want to see his six-pack abs. Well Steve darling, if you don’t want to be objectified, then maybe you shouldn’t take your shirt off in front of 300,000 screaming people, rub oil on your torso, and then post all the photos on social media.
Mardi Gras Ambassador – Courtney Act
Officially and unofficially, at Mardi Gras there were lots of cops, thankfully not all of them with sniffer dogs. There were several marching police groups, and the George Michael Freedom float featured a large contingent impersonating George as the L.A. cop in his brilliantly controversial Outside music video. But definitely the gayest vehicle in the entire 2017 Gay & Lesbian Mardi Gras Parade was the hunky silver NSW Police Audi coupe’, complete with fluorescent checkerboard signage, driven by two grinning uniformed officers who had recently had their teeth whitened.
There were lots of sporty bits.
Heaps of Olivia Newton-John inspired “Let’s Get Physical” aerobics outfits.
Two Olympic gold-medal divers Greg Louganis AND Matthew Mitcham attended the Garry Scale Memorial Fruit Stand.
Various water polo and footie teams marched past. And Ian Roberts ruled the NRL float, a man who deserves our eternal respect as being the first man to unabashedly come out in any of the international football leagues while still at the top of his game. More than two decades ago, like a Titan, he smashed down the closet door. Roberts remains humble, honest and, for a former Manly front row player, erudite. He ain’t no saint, but he might as well be. After all, our only official Aussie saint is dull old Mary McKillop, who was just a jumped-up school teacher who liked kangaroos.
All the red-and-yellow lifesavers dancing around their “Kiss of Life” float were performing the same hand-signals as the cabin crew on the Qantas float with Troye Sivan. Sivan is our home-grown singer, song-writer, teenaged Wolverine and YouTube wunderkind. Were the Qantas hostesses and Bondi lifesavers all signalling to indicate the nearest 747 exit, or telling us to bring in the buoys?
Icons – Ricky Martin (wax), Wonder Woman, George Michael & Andy Warhol
Disney Icons – Genie, Robin Hood, Maleficent & Aladdin and/or Ali Baba
So here are the unofficial awards for the 2017 Mardi Gras Parade.
Best dress – Verushka Darling on the back of the Air bnb cottage, floating like an angel in a white cascade of domestic light-bulbs.
Best Costume – the metallic blue and silver entrant with ice-coloured contact lenses, built-in neon lighting and his trio of black canine bodyguards
Best Group T-shirts – the Aussie Lamb float, with a motif of a couple of prime rainbow cutlets printed on a mint-green background.
Best Dyke on a Bike – the dyke on the yellow Ducati.
Most Necessary Politics – Keep Sydney Open, a float lambasting the ridiculous lock-out laws, with signs in favour of the Oxford Street clubs, and quashing the notion that “Dancing is Dangerous”.
A Twisted Sister, plus Not the Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull, but perennial favorite Kabi / Kevin / Ethel Yarwood in a mask.
Best Policeman – He knows who he is, the cheeky bugger.
Best Bagpipes Player (I never thought I would write that phrase) – One of the Scotzboys, and he also knows who he is.
Best Choreography – the SBS “Equality is our Chemistry” float, when the dancers joined together to turn their glittery half-hearts into full hearts. How sweet. Plus the red and white Medicare float with the Kiss-Cam. Smooch.
Even Better Choreography – the ANZ guy who couldn’t clap and scream in time with all his colleagues, who could be seen counting the steps on his lips, and who blithely span and marched in the opposite direction. Brilliant!
Best Float – Poof Doof. Harking back to the glory days of the Albury floats, this entry understood the impact of a powerful sound system, happy couples in black leather speedos shooting smoke cannons and a strict black-and-white chessboard theme with unicorns, bishop hats, dog-masks and witches. Slave to the rhythm.
Remember, beauty fades but dumb is forever.
Mardi Gras – It’s just like Christmas, only happy.