Brian Brake: Lens on China and New Zealand
Parade for the 10th anniversary of the People’s Republic of China, Tiananmen Square, Beijing 1959
Date: Oct 31, 2012 - Feb 1, 2013
Venue:Gallery S1

Brian Brake (1927–88) was a New Zealand photographer whose work for the Paris-based photo agency Magnum in the 1950s and 60s won him international acclaim.

Brake travelled the world taking photographs, which were then published in illustrated magazines. During his visits to China in 1957, and again in 1959, he captured the spectacular mass parades in Beijing. In 1960, he toured New Zealand, the land of his birth, where the magnificent mountain scenery drew his eye.

In both countries, Brake also photographed ordinary people – often caught unawares by his camera – as they went about their daily lives. Today, his photographs provide a unique insight into two peoples and their different ways of life, at the same moment in time.

Brian Brake was one of just a few Western photographers to visit China in the 1950s. He was able to capture on film a country that few Westerners had had the opportunity to visit themselves.

In 1957, Brake spent 3 months visiting Beijing, Xian, and the provinces of Gansu, Henan, Sichuan, and Yunnan. He made such a good impression on the Chinese Government that, in 1959, he was the only freelance Western photographer invited to cover the 10th anniversary of the founding of the People’s Republic of China. Brake then travelled on to Shanghai, Hubei, and Henan.

Brake documented many aspects of Chinese life, but it was his photographs of public events and political figures that interested the magazines in Europe and the United States. His photographs of ordinary Chinese people were largely unpublished at the time, and they have never been seen in China – until now.
Parade for the 10th anniversary of the People’s Republic of China, Tiananmen Square, Beijing 1959
At the Summer Palace, Beijing 1959
Street portrait studio, Beijing 1957
Zhongshan Park, Beijing 1959
In 1960, Brian Brake spent several months travelling around New Zealand taking photographs. His images later appeared in the best-selling book New Zealand, gift of the sea.

Brake’s photographs capture a land of spectacular natural scenery. They also document an agricultural nation that had grown rich by exporting its meat, wool, and dairy products, ensuring that New Zealanders enjoyed one of the world’s highest standards of living at the time. Other images focus on Māori, the country’s indigenous people – living in the modern world but preserving their own traditions.

In addition, Brake’s photographs reflect New Zealand’s emerging sense of identity at the time. After World War II (1939–45), the country had begun gradually reducing its dependence on Britain, its former colonial ruler. In Brake’s images, many New Zealanders recognised their new way of seeing their country ¬– and themselves.
Milford Sound, Fiordland 1960
High-country sheep musterers, Mt Possession Station, Canterbury 1960
Kumeu Agricultural and Pastoral Show 1960
Cape Reinga 1960
The exhibitions were jointly developed by
the Museum of New Zealand Te Papa Tongarewa and the National Museum of China.
With the support of the New Zealand Government through Manatū Taonga – Ministry for Culture and Heritage’s Cultural Diplomacy International Programme.
With thanks to the China Southern Airlines
Text © Museum of New Zealand Te Papa Tongarewa 2012
Chinese text translation © National Museum of China and Museum of New Zealand Te Papa Tongarewa
All Brian Brake: Brian Brake: Lens on China and New Zealand images are by Brian Brake and © Estate of Brian Brake unless otherwise credited
Te Papa gratefully acknowledges the gift of the Brian Brake Collection by Wai-man Lau