January 22: Anti-portrait

22January 22: Jim McFarlane was born on this date in 1955 and is a Melbourne photographer of food, and of dance. As good as that is, I will be featuring his other work, which may be called photojournalism, though it is not used in the usual conventions of that genre. He exhibits it in support of the people he photographs.

That could not be done, it must be said, had Jim not enjoyed his well deserved success as a freelance commercial photographer, a career he launched after training at Prahran College of Advanced Education under Athol Shmith and John Cato.

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Last year, 2016, he showed in a group show Like Monkeys on a Rock, at Averard Hotel, Hyde Park, London, England, with exhibitions almost every year previous dating back to 2008 when Desert Faces and the accompanying book The Silent Witnesses of the Niger Drought were launched at Albion, the Norman Foster designed gallery in Hester Rd London.

The night incorporated a charity auction raising $250,000 to fund a three year water and sanitation project with UNICEF in Niger, enabling wells to be built in twelve villages to bring clean water to over 12,000 people. (Niger has the highest child mortality rate in the world, rates of suffering that are comparable to conflict zones and the worst emergencies in the world).

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McFarlane’s The Children of Gaza, photographed in 2011, was shown at Meem Gallery, Dubai; UAE, Orient Gallery, Amman, Jordan; Virginia Commonwealth University, Doha, Qatar; and Sultan Gallery, Kuwait city, Kuwait. A sub-series of these are his Anti-portraits which put the viewer in the position of the young inhabitants of Gaza as they face the vengeful and disproportionate destruction of their housing, schools and streets.

These are available-light images shot in normal perspective that look over the shoulders of the subjects. McFarlane’s is a strategy which concentrates our attention also on body language. We assume emotions are hard to read when we cannot see facial expression, but his ‘anti-portraits’ prove the opposite, and we become intensely aware of despair, hopelessness and anger in the postures of these people who face devastation that we cannot otherwise envisage.


When we see a face, it is this one smiling one, of a boy who cannot see us and yet in whose face is no apparent suffering, no hate, only joy, despite his scars.

[NOTE: this post has been kept short due to bandwidth issues that are hampering research and document retrieval. The article will be expanded. That you of your patience]


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