RMIT: RMIT graduate’s artwork installed at the Shrine of Remembrance

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RMIT Master of Photography graduate Jack McLain has had one of his artworks installed for an exhibition at the Shrine of Remembrance in Melbourne.

After displaying his series: ‘The Hall of Shadows’, at the RMIT School of Art exhibition in December 2021, McLain had one of the pieces, ‘It’s Only the News,’ selected to exhibit in the Shrine’s Visitor Centre, which is free to see until December 2022.

‘It’s Only the News’ is a photographic investigation of war crimes alleged to have been perpetrated by members of the Australian Special Forces in Afghanistan between 2005 – 2016.

It responds to The Brereton Report, a heavily redacted Australian Federal Government Inquiry released in November 2020 that found evidence of 39 murders of civilians and prisoners of war involving members of the Australian Special Forces in Afghanistan.

The series of digitally composited images depict plastic figures on newsprint overlaid onto images of redacted pages from the Brereton Report.

These composite images are presented on 39 banners covering an entire wall along the Shrine’s Visitor Centre.

“The Brereton report looks at 39 counts of murder that they’re investigating, so we decided on 39 banners in three rows of 13,” McLain said.

McLain, who served in the US Special Forces in Afghanistan between 2001 – 2004, hopes his work can start some difficult conversations about the social, ethical, and human terrain created by the alleged war crimes.

“I’m not somebody who finds extreme answers or really loud conversations change people much,” he said.

“I wanted to raise some questions, and they’re hard questions which will lead to some challenging conversations.”

Earlier this year, Alison Bennett, Associate Dean of Photography, RMIT School of Art, contacted Sue Burgess, Head of Public Programming at the Shrine to put forward McLain’s work.

“Sue was my outside assessor for my Master of Photography in 2021 and was keen on the work I’d done,” McLain said.

“So, she invited me in to have a conversation with the curatorial staff and before I knew it, they said ‘we want to get you scheduled in for an exhibition.’”

Continuing his work in this area, The Anzac Memorial in Sydney has greenlit his latest project, an exploration of the lives of 20 Korean war veterans, which he hopes to begin later in 2022.

It’s a project McLain said is important to do now before these stories are lost.

“These veterans are getting older; they just disbanded the Korean War Veterans Association as so few are still alive.”

“When you’re working with 80-year-old veterans, the process is slow, some will be in great shape; some will need to take a lot of breaks – so I’ll just need to work with them.”

“As a veteran, people are interested in you, in your experience, but there are a lot of stereotypes.”

“It doesn’t matter if the stereotypes come from Hollywood or popular culture or whatever, the brush strokes tend to be very broad, and I think for many veterans it’s important to understand the nuance of their experience.”

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