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Brake’s best-known photographs 

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


Monsoon girl was his most famous image. How did he come to take it?
This 1960 photograph has been reproduced many times. As originally published in the ‘Monsoon’ essay, it suggests a young girl rapturously turning her face to the first rains after months of drought in India.

The rest of the photographs in the essay are taken in a photojournalistic manner, capturing reality as it happened. Most viewers would therefore assume that the young girl in Monsoon girl was someone he chanced upon in a village as the rain began to fall. But in fact she was an actress on a film set that Brake was visiting and he posed her, using a watering can to sprinkle water on her face like rain. He didn’t actively try to deceive anyone, but most people would not think that it was a set-up shot.

His photographs of Picasso are also famous, aren’t they?
In New Zealand, Brake’s 1955 photographs of Picasso at a bullfight are almost as well known as Monsoon girl. But internationally, they have to compete with the hundreds of photographs of Picasso published by many renowned photographers.

Brake’s photographs show Picasso at a small town bullfight in southern France. The image that was originally published was usually of Picasso’s son placing his hand inside his father’s mouth from behind at a moment of suspense. Brake certainly captured a humorous incident with this image. As a whole, the series is mostly notable for the unposed images of its celebrity artist subject.

He took the Te Maori photographs too, did he?
Yes and no.

He took photographs of well-known taonga in the 1970s for the book Art of the Pacific. Many of these taonga were also used in the Te Maori exhibition. Although Brake was not the official Te Maori exhibition photographer, he used some of these earlier photographs, plus others he took of exhibition taonga, in a National Geographic article about the exhibition. Later, these photographs were used in the New Zealand tour catalogue and in merchandise. The photographs also appeared in a 2003 book, Maori art: The photography of Brian Brake.

New Zealand, gift of the sea is often found in second-hand bookshops. But there seem to be two books with the same title. Why is this?
The book has its origins in 1961, when National Geographic published a story under this title. It featured Brake’s photographs with a text by Maurice Shadbolt. Brake wasn’t happy with it, though, and he and Shadbolt decided to produce a book.

New Zealand, gift of the sea was published by Whitcombe and Tombs in 1963, and became an instant success. It went through many printings in the 1960s, with some revisions as well. In 1973 a new edition came out, with some changes to images and text that had been looking dated.

Finally, in 1990, an entirely new version appeared. It was published by Hodder and Stoughton in a quite different format, with mostly new images and new text.

Continue reading – Brake’s career

Continue reading - Brake's career

'Monsoon girl'. From the series: 'Monsoon'
'Monsoon girl'. From the series: 'Monsoon', 1960, Brake, Brian (1927–1988), India. Gift of Mr Raymond Wai-Man Lau, 2001. Te Papa
Pablo Picasso, son Claude and Jean Cocteau at a bullfight, Vallauris, France
Pablo Picasso, son Claude and Jean Cocteau at a bullfight, Vallauris, France, 1955, Brake, Brian (1927–1988), Vallauris. Gift of Mr Raymond Wai-Man Lau, 2001. Te Papa
'New Zealand, gift of the sea', 1963, cover
'New Zealand, gift of the sea', 1963, cover

© Copyright Museum of New Zealand Te Papa Tongarewa, Wellington, New Zealand.