Brian Brake

This exhibition has been drawing substantial crowds across Aotearoa/New Zealand as the acclaimed survey of Brian Brake’s life and work tours 7 selected art museums nationally. Whangarei and then Dunedin are the last two venues to host the full version of this engaging exhibition.

The exhibition features more than 165 superb photographic reproductions from Te Papa’s permanent art collection, and is the first comprehensive retrospective exhibition of this notable Magnum photographer’s work, spanning his forty-year career.

Brake was New Zealand’s best known photographer in the 1970s and 1980s, and arguably remains so today. He gained international prominence with his ‘Monsoon’ essay on India, which was seen around the world in Life, Paris Match, Epoca and other picture magazines in 1961.

For New Zealanders, Brake was particularly known for the hugely popular New Zealand, Gift of the Sea, a book first published in 1963 that he co-authored with writer Maurice Shadbolt, as well as for a series of books in the 1970s and 80s on decorative arts and taonga, such as Art of the Pacific (1979) and Craft New Zealand (1981).

Brake began learning his craft in camera clubs as a teenager in the South Island, then at a portrait studio in Wellington, and as a cameraman at the National Film Unit. He left for London in 1954. Although he struggled for work initially, his international career began when he was introduced to the Paris-based photo agency Magnum by one of its celebrated founders, Henri Cartier-Bresson. Brake worked with Magnum during the 1950s and 60s through what was a golden age for photojournalism.

Brake’s work was published in magazines such as Life, Paris Match, National Geographic and Illustrated. He was regularly and repeatedly commissioned for large-scale projects for which he was flown from one side of the globe to the other at a time when only the wealthy could afford the experience of air travel.

The photographic images in the exhibition include those he was invited to take in 1950s Communist China and Soviet Russia; Roman and Egyptian ruins as they were in the 1960s; candid shots of celebrities such as Pablo Picasso and Chairman Mao, promotional work undertaken for Air New Zealand and Tourism New Zealand in the 1970s and 1980s; and groundbreaking work with craft objects and taonga Mäori, including some of those which travelled in the much celebrated Te Maori exhibition in 1984. Brian Brake: Lens on the World gives and unprecedented insight into Brakes life and his view on the world.