To Maori, the governing principle of mauri brings to all objects the power and prescience of a living spirit. Objects that are hand-crafted from wood, stone, shell, bone or pounamu are imbued with life by their creators. Conveying the mauri of an object through photography requires an exceptional talent, one focused on distilling the essential energy of the original piece through shades of lighting, position and perspective. This is what Brian Brake achieved. The photos in this collection constitute the best of Brake's photographic journey into the world of the Maori. Drawn from work completed for an array of commissions, the images include both those that travelled the world and those rarely seen before. Taken as a whole, they form a celebration of diversity and richness in artistic expression, encompassing carved houses and woven panels, sculpture and tools, ornaments and jewellery, ritual objects and weapons. Recognised as New Zealand's greatest photographer, Brake pursued his passion for the visual image across every continent, but his love for the country of his birth remained unshakeable.
Featuring contributions from Witi Ihimaera and Ngahuia Te Awekotuku, Maori Art: The Photography of Brian Brake makes a statement not only of Maori art history but also the career of a man who sought perfection in photographic endeavour.
Born in Wellington in 1927 and educated in Christchurch, Brian Brake gained an affinity with the camera at a young age. After working with the National Film Unit in Wellington, he based himself in London and worked internationally as a freelance photographer, before being invited by Henri Cartier-Bresson to join the exclusive Magnum Photos agency in 1955. His 1961 photo essay Monsoon propelled him to world acclaim; in that year he moved to Hong Kong, where he was based until the mid-1970s, contributing regularly to magazines such as National Geographic and Life, and later making films. In 1974 he was commissioned by the Queen Elizabeth II Arts Council of New Zealand to photograph indigenous art and artefacts from museums around the South Pacific - many of those images are contained in this collection. He returned to New Zealand to live in 1976, and his ongoing involvement in exhibitions and publications helped Maori art to reach an international audience. Brian Brake died in Auckland in 1988.