Brian Brake: Lens on the World, edited by Athol McCredie (Te Papa Press, 2010) 352 pp., $99.99
Photojournalism is politics by other means, a form of persuasion, a type of propaganda, where photographs might proselytise on behalf of a world-view. Brian Brake (1927–88) was, as this book tells us, ‘New Zealand’s best-known photographer’, certainly during the latter part of his lifetime. But, as Athol McCredie, the book’s general editor, goes on to point out in his lucid and succinct introduction, though Brake had a successful international career and was a media legend in New Zealand, ‘the generation of “art” photographers who had emerged during his absence overseas largely ignored him’ — there is no School of Brian Brake, and meanwhile his images which once featured so prominently in international anthologies, such as Helmut and Alison Gernsheim’s Thames and Hudson survey A Concise History of Photography, have disappeared from more recent authoritative publications, such as 2004’s Magnum Stories: Sixty-One Photographers (edited by Chris Booth for Phaidon).
The Te Papa Brian Brake project, which combines this book selection of over 300 photographs and six essays – ranging from McCredie’s overview, to Lissa Mitchell’s examination of his early years, to Peter Ireland’s assessment of the best-seller New Zealand: Gift of the Sea (1963, revised edition 1973, new version 1990), to Damian Skinner’s revisionist reading of his museum and gallery object photographs — with a 2010 major retrospective exhibition at the Museum of New Zealand Te Papa Tongarewa, also extends to include an ongoing online cataloguing of selected Brake images in an attempt to do justice to the critical mass of around 115,000 photographs that were donated by Brake’s partner Wai-man Raymond (Amau) Lau to the Museum in 2001. That donated collection in turn doesn’t quite encompass Brake’s entire oeuvre — things have gone missing over time. (Various originals of a number of key colour images are also missing from the book, represented instead by barely adequate magazine reproductions.)
DAVID EGGLETON is a critic, poet and non-fiction writer and the editor of Landfall and Landfall Review Online. His most recent book is a volume of new poems, Time of the Icebergs (Otago University Press, 2010).