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Assessing Brake's work 

Questions and answers    | 1 | 2 | 3 | 4 | 5 | 6 |


What was he good at?
Brake excelled at illustrative photography – that is, illustrating a story for a magazine or conveying the character of art objects for book illustrations. His best photographs are attractive and inviting to the eye. He was ambitious, meticulous, hard working, and very professional in pursing such images.

Is his work art?
That might depend on what you call art. His work probably doesn’t quite fit the criteria applied today to photography by curators, dealers, collectors, and critics. This is because it tends to lack a recognisable personal flavour or vision, or extend the language of photography, and is aligned more with commercial contexts.

Did Brake himself regard his photographs as art?
That’s another slightly tricky question. In his very early pictorialist and portrait work, which he entered into photographic society competitions, presumably he did. However, in the 1970s Brake said that he didn’t think photography was yet an art, but more a craft. He seemed a little uncomfortable with the idea by this time, and was quite critical of a younger generation of photographers in New Zealand who wanted the notion of photography as art more widely accepted.

Was he a trailblazer?
Perhaps not, at least internationally. His ‘Monsoon’ essay has the greatest claim to originality, as it was rare in 1961 to see a photo story reproduced entirely in colour and with few or no words to carry the narrative. However, he didn’t follow it up with anything similar, and his good friend Ernst Haas had also already produced such photos essays in the 1950s.

Continue reading – Brake’s technique

Continue reading - Brake's technique

Brunei, 1956-1988, Brake, Brian (1927–1988), Brunei. Gift of Mr Raymond Wai-Man Lau, 2001. Te Papa

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