Wednesday, June 25, 2014

Mao to Picasso -- Brian Brake Photography Exhibition

Published on Nov 6, 2013
Koru Contemporary Art is pleased to announce the successful outcome of negotiations
with the estate of Brian Brake and we now can offer the only remaining portfolio of
vintage photographs, outside of public museums and galleries. This collection of iconic
images features Brake's Chinese/Hong Kong series and Picasso at the Bullfight series
photographed in the 1950s. These photographs will be exhibited in Brian Brake's first
solo exhibition in Hong Kong in decades, titled 'Mao to Picasso -- Brian Brake

Brian Brake is generally regarded as New Zealand's most successful international
photographer. But he also worked in motion pictures -- as both director and
cinematographer -- and was the first ever New Zealander to be nominated for an
Academy Award. Brian Brake's career spanned over 40 years from the 1940s to the
1980s and during that period created a magnificent catalogue of photographs from both
New Zealand and around the world.

Brake initially made his name as an international photojournalist, photographing for
magazines such as Life, National Geographic and Paris Match. In the early years of the
Cold War, with help from Magnum founder Henri Cartier-Bresson, Brake became one
of few foreign photographers Chinese authorities permitted to take photos. He spent
three months in China in 1957, and later was the only independent Western
photographer allowed to document the 10th anniversary of the Communist republic in

Brake also had a fascination for documenting everyday life and captured many black and white photos of ordinary people going about their lives in and around Beijing. Athol
McCredie, Photography Curator at the Museum of New Zealand Te Papa Tongarewa
believed that Brake's insight into China in the 1950s was unique, not only for a Western
photographer but for the Chinese too. Few Chinese photographers at the time
documented life away from the sanctioned official view of it. The spectacle of official
Tiananmen Square parades was what magazine editors went for. McCredie
commented that American audiences would have been thrilled at seeing the photos --
feeling a mixture of fear, awe and fascination.

Gael Newton wrote "...Brake had photographed Hong Kong in 1958 for the French
magazine Jours de France and in 1961 for National Geographic and the images he
took then had a strong emphasis on crowded street scenes and people. He was well
aware of the changes brought about by modernization and the construction projects of
the 1960s and 1970s which swept away some of the historical quarters. Brake handled
this modernity with ease but also retained a sense of life of the people..."

"The China photographs proposed for this exhibition will be serious, thoughtful, factual,
and at times so beautifully visual that the viewer can forget that his magnificently organized pictures are showing a regimented society." -- Eva Arnold. In addition, the
Hong Kong proposed photographs offer the viewer captivating glimpses of Hong Kong's past, its people, places and culture. These images all captured through the very
discerning eyes of an astute artist who many commentators believe was very much
ahead of his time.

Also Included in this exhibition will be one of two of Brake's most widely recognized
and iconic photo essays, 'Picasso at a Bullfight'. This was in fact not an official
assignment from Magnum, and only came about due to the co-incidence that Brake
was holidaying with friends in the south of France when he learned Picasso was attending a bullfight in a town close by. Once Brake arrived at the bullfight, there was a
relatively small crowd of no more than 500, and Brake was able to gain close up shots
of Picasso and his entourage, with little interference from other photographers or crowds.

As the story is told by Brake, the iconic image of Claude, Picasso's son, putting his
index finger into Picasso's mouth during a climactic moment in the fight, was the last
image taken on his last roll of film. The contact sheets do in fact show this was the last
photo taken on his second roll of film, but out of four rolls shot that day, and this image
went on to be published in Life, Stern, The Times and Paris Match, the leading
magazines of the day.

These much sought-after and rare vintage photographs included in this exhibition have
been sourced directly from the estate of Brian Brake and are all either signed or embossed by the artist.