Sunday, December 5, 2010

Brian Brake, one of the most celebrated photographers of the 20th century?

While in Paris I received an email from Auckland auction house ART + OBJECT inviting me to their book and exhibition launch of Selected Vintage Photographs from the Estate of Brian Brake.
In the mailing they announce that Brian Brake was one of the most celebrated photographers of the 20th century.

Later back in Auckland I was sent the magnificently produced hard back and slip-cased catalogue, surely a first for any New Zealand auction house. The auction includes all the usual Brake photographic chestnuts that we have all seen before with work that could be attributed to any photo-journalist at the top of their game.
Much of the success of the work relates to the subject matter. Who could go wrong finding Picasso and entourage in front of ones camera. And the sacred Maori objects, beautifully made photographs that most commercial studio photographers could readily turn their hand too. As for the Tasman Pulp and Paper portraits they are simply average.

Brian Brake's greatest achievement was his Monsoon Series. India is an extremely difficult place to make photographs, there is potentially a great picture everywhere you turn and they tend to cancel each other out. Brake's achievement is that he made the work on painfully slow Kodachrome film and he had a good idea, but never-the-less his pictures often reflect a distance and remoteness that was part of the man's personality.

ART + OBJECT make the most of Brake's MAGNUM membership. Of course he left MAGNUM, not the first member to do so, more than likely in the knowledge that he could make more money working freelance than paying the photo cooperatives percentage. Sadly today MAGNUM have written Brian Brake out of their history, I suspect a fate reserved for all defectors. I would doubt very much if today any of the new, younger members would even know his name.

So with the passage of time, the death of the photographer and auction house hyperbole, solid tradesman like reportage has become art.

I wonder though, given that ART + OBJECT rate Brake as "one of the most celebrated photographers of the 20th century" why their sale price estimates are so low.

The photograph: Indian girl in early monsoon rain.

The auction takes place at 6.30pm Thursday December 9

1 comment:

Rachel said...

I was given a book published by Te Papa called Brian Brake: Lens on the World, which was published to tie in with their exhibition celebrating his work and I was interested in how many of his photographs I have seen in different contexts not knowing they were his.