Fashion statement face-masks

The fashion world is constantly evolving. Over the years I’ve photographed a heady selection of haute couture design, casual street wear and accessories,  both in Australia and overseas, including in Paris, Hong Kong, Beirut and Rome. Recently I photographed the novel range of face masks designed by the label Hygiene to a T (   Each mask is handmade, washable, reusable and reversible. 

Hygiene to a T has launched its range of colourful, Australiana masks which are stylish and still highly protective. Their beautiful fabrics feature cockatoos, wallabies, bandicoots, wattle and banksia, but also more funky urban patterns, including a comic-book Spiderman. Wearing a mask of a masked superhero has its own ironic, Pop culture edge. Hygiene to a T cleverly encourages you to stay safe with style.

The joy of coincidence – similar pose, different continent

Ceramic figure by Dutch artist Frans Franciscus, 2021

Sometimes in the art world, coincidences can be a great joy. I just received an invitation to a solo presentation of new ceramic sculptures by Dutch artist Frans Franciscus (, showing one of his elongated, nude figures. Franciscus has posed his male subject upside-down, like a naked totem. Immediately I was reminded of one of my own works, a surreal portrait of Olympic diver Matthew Mitcham. In my photograph taken in Sydney ten years ago, Matt poses in his diving trunks, balanced on his hands in the abandoned rail yards at Lilyfield.

John McRae, Matthew Mitcham, Lilyfield, 2011

The silhouette and mood are very similar in both of our works. Franciscus says he “combines or re-arranges compositions of old masters depicting biblical stories in an up-to-date and idiosyncratic fashion.” Using sculpture, paintings, drawings and photographs, his art tackles racism, discrimination and social discomfort. I sometimes do the same thing in my photographs. Frans Franciscus, who is also a great friend of my mate the Dutch artist Erwin Olaf, will be featured in “This Art Fair” to be held at the Kromhouthal in Amsterdam, August 26-29, 2021, with seven new sculptures presented in his solo called as “Clay Only”. Inspired by medieval and Renaissance painting, Surrealism, religious iconography and classical mythology, Franciscus’ artwork always tries to create space for a broader view on humankind.

My portrait photograph of Matt was taken in the industrial area still “under development for the West Connex”, at the site next to the Lilyfield light rail, from where you can see the Sydney Harbour Bridge. It was taken as part of a fashion shoot that I was staging for the Australian label “Gossip”.  I had decided to incorporate different narratives into the fashion shots … to that end I enlisted “extras” to appear in the backgrounds. Matt, who at the time lived nearby, was included as part of this concept. 

John McRae, Fashion shoot for Gossip Couture, 2011

This was only three years after Matt had won his gold medal at the Beijing Olympics in the 10-metre diving event, with what is still the highest-scoring single dive in Olympic history.  My photos were taken in March, 2011.

And now for something completely different……

Adam Lee

Now and then it can be great to have a bit of fun in the studio and just see where things take you. Adam is a friend who was keen to play along. We raided the costume box and this is what we found. The results are a bit of Goldfinger, and Madonna, and Shirley Bassey, and Liberace, and Moulin Rouge, and James Bond.

Winter Collection – So French So Chic

For this shoot for So French So Chic, we decided to photograph the winter collection of jumpers and knits in a neutral warehouse setting.

With more than 20 years of experience So French So Chic is focused on stylish but casual clothing made from knitwear and all-natural fibres. Designed in France and produced in Italy for the Australian climate, the new range for SFSC features cable knit, bold colours and soft fabric.

Model: Brooke Garvey

Hair and Makeup: Michael Wolff Salon, Potts Point

My Green Zone

Callan Park, a large parkland on the Sydney foreshore, borders the suburbs of Rozelle, Lilyfield and Leichhardt. Just across the road from my photography studio, the park stretches down to the water’s edge. I regularly go for walks on the lawns, amidst the centuries old trees and the heritage buildings. It’s both a sanctuary and an oasis.

Over the years I have photographed the interiors of different buildings within Callan Park, especially the abandoned psychiatric wards, which featured as a backdrop for my “Looney Bin” and “Ward 17” series. These sandstone buildings have been shown in my exhibitions in Rome, Ravello, Trieste and Sydney.

One of the original buildings in Callan Park officially entitled the house of “The Master of Lunacy”

Documenting the Manly Ferry

The four 40-year-old Freshwater-class ferries churning the waters from Circular Quay to Manly are about to be replaced by a fleet of new 1000-seat, double decker vessels. I have been commissioned to photograph these iconic beasts before they disappear from service.

I have been venturing down to the harbour at different times of the day to capture the MV Freshwater, MV Queenscliff, MV Narrabeen and MV Collaroy as they near their retirement. The Manly Ferries provide one of the world’s most beautiful public transport services, operating since 1855.

The Port Jackson and Manly Steamship Company that operated the Manly ferries for nearly a century famously coined the expression about Manly being “Seven miles from Sydney and a thousand miles from care”, a phrase that became part of Sydney’s popular culture.

New paintings by Phil Stallard

Sydney artist Phil Stallard is know for his spontaneous landscapes of coastal Sydney. Describing himself as an “Emotional Abstractionist”, Phil dedicates himself to creating exuberantly coloured paintings with Sydney harbour and swimming pool iconography. The theme of water has been a prominent reference point for Phil, drawing on his personal memories of the city and the Hawkesbury.

Currently Phil is working on an upcoming solo show at Rochfort Gallery in North Sydney.

“My work has echoes of improvised jazz, where the artist interprets compositional themes through the act of painting. The result is carefully thought out but with spontaneous elements that give the painting vitality and life.”

The natural world in jewellery by CircaAD

Following 30 years in the world of fine jewellery and decorative arts both in Europe and Australia, Adrian Dickens from CircaAD specialises in objects of intrinsic beauty and good craftsmanship. This ranges from South Sea pearl pendants and diamond cluster brooches, to reinvigorated family heirlooms.

For the last 8 years, I have been working with Adrian, whose business is based in Melbourne. My work has been photographing his collection of high quality pieces for his annual catalogue and documenting his fine jewellery, created thanks to his specialised approach.

The Valletta Swimming Pool

Sometimes archeology is not about ancient history. The public swimming pool in Valletta, one of my favourite informal places in Malta, is for me a site of extraordinary memories. I have spent 20 years meeting up with friends around the deck, swimming laps for exercise underneath the ramparts of the old city. On the right of the pool is baroque architecture and on the left is the Mediterranean. There has always been an endearing atmosphere of mild neglect, which adds to the attraction.

As I write this, I have heard that the pool is being demolished. Sitting here in winter in Sydney I am full of nostalgia for scorching summers by the blue waters of this magical place.

The local children who live in the area have used the pool as their social club. Over the years I saw many of them grow up.

Currently I am revising and editing the various images I have captured of this iconic public meeting point, with the idea of creating a monograph as a tribute to this slice of warm humanity in Valletta.

Mark Butler – Portrait of an architect

I recently photographed the esteemed architect, Mark Butler, at various sites around the CBD, including The Rocks and under the Harbour Bridge. As principal architect of Butler Associates Pty Ltd, his firm required new imagery to use in an up-coming marketing campaign for projects overseas.

Mark is a highly experienced and passionate Australian designer who constantly strives for design excellence through an innovative and imaginative approach. He has extensive international experience working in Australia, China, Taiwan, Vietnam, Algeria and the Middle East.

Over the past 20 years Mark has worked collaboratively on a variety of international and award winning projects, with highlights such as, the Watercube for the Beijing 2008 Olympics (2003-2008), the iconic residential project, City Gardens in Ho Chi Minh, Vietnam (2006- 2012) the design of the Zenith Theatre and Exhibition Centre for the Arab Arts Festival (2015), in Constantine, Algeria.  Currently he is working on a number of new projects in Vietnam having completed the Chi Dong Residential Tower, Kingdom 101 Residence and Banciao Residential Tower.

Mark Edwards Butler, director Butler Associates.