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 Photography'.
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 1959.
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.