Brian Brake

Director, Cinematographer

Although generally regarded as New Zealand's most successful international photographer, Brian Brake also worked in motion pictures, as both director and cinematographer. At the Government's National Film Unit he directed the first Kiwi film nominated for an Academy Award (Snows of Aorangi). Later he worked for prestigious photo agency Magnum, and featured in photo journals Life and National Geographic.

A Master of Light - The Life and Work of Brian Brake Photographer

Television, 1987 (Full Length)

Brian Brake is regarded as New Zealand's most successful international photographer. He worked for the Magnum cooperative, and snapped famous shots of Pablo Picasso at a bullfight and the Monsoon series for Life magazine. In this Inspiration documentary — made shortly before his 1988 death — Brake reviews his lifelong quest for “mastery over light”, from an Arthur’s Pass childhood to a fascination with Asia. He recalls time at the National Film Unit and is seen capturing waka huia, Egyptian tombs, and Castlepoint’s beach races (for a new version of book Gift of the Sea).

Collection

Brian Brake at the NFU

Curated by NZ On Screen team

Brian Brake is regarded as New Zealand's most successful international photographer. But before heading overseas to work for photo agency Magnum and snapping iconic shots of Picasso and the Monsoon series for Life magazine, he was also an accomplished composer of moving images. He shot or directed many classic films for the NFU, including NZ's first Oscar-nominated film. 

Logan Brewer - The Man Behind the Razmatazz

Television, 1991 (Excerpts)

This 1991 story from magazine show Sunday profiles Logan Brewer: production designer on Kiwi TV classics (C’Mon, Hunter’s Gold), and producer of Terry and the Gunrunners and live ‘spectaculars’ like the 1990 Commonwealth Games opening ceremony. He talks through his career: learning about performing at England's National Theatre, and selling Aotearoa as “the last paradise” for Expo '92 in Seville — for which he is shown wrangling an extended shot of Kiri Te Kanawa and the NZ Symphony Orchestra, promoting fibreglass pohutukawa, and working with designer Grant Major.

Mercury Lane - Series One, Episode 13

Television, 2001 (Full Length Episode)

This 2001 Mercury Lane episode is based around pieces on author Maurice Shadbolt, and OMC producer Alan Jansson. With Shadbolt ailing from Alzheimer’s, Michelle Bracey surveys his life as an “unauthorised author” (Shadbolt would die in 2004). Next Colin Hogg reveals Jansson as the “invisible pop star” behind OMC hit ‘How Bizarre’ and more. The show is bookended by readings from Kiwi poets: Hone Tuwhare riffs on Miles Davis, Fleur Adcock reads the saucy Bed and Breakfast, and Alistair Te Ariki Campbell mourns a brother who fought for the Māori Battalion.

Just Across the Tasman - Your South Island Holiday

Short Film, 1952 (Full Length)

This 1952 tourism film promoted New Zealand as a destination to Australians. In the 1950s the Kiwi tourist industry lacked accommodation and investment. But new opportunities were offered by international air travel — like the Melbourne to Christchurch route shown here, flown by TEAL (which later became Air New Zealand). Produced by the National Film Unit, this promo touts the South Island as an antidote to crowded city life in Melbourne and Sydney. Road trips offer glaciers, lakes, snow sports, motoring, angling, racing, and scenic delight aplenty.

Aspiring

Television, 2006 (Excerpts)

This documentary revisits six eventful weeks in 1949. Led by cameraman Brian Brake, an all-star art team  James K Baxter as scriptwriter, composer Douglas Lilburn and painter John Drawbridge (all under 30; Drawbridge was 19)  attempt to make a 'cinematic poem' about an ascent of Mt Aspiring. Baxter's notes on the trip evolved into his poem In the Matukituki Valley. Aspiring features a lost script, Drawbridge's memories (he recalls storyboards for a snow cave light show here) and a surprise ending. View footage of the never-completed film after the excerpt.

New Zealand Mirror No. 14

Short Film, 1952 (Full Length)

This magazine newsreel mixes buried treasure with a classic Brian Brake-shot performance piece. Opener 'The Long Poi' captures a poi dance. In 'The Buried Village' tourists examine fireballs and Māori stone carvings buried in the 1886 Tarawera eruption. The final piece showcases the talents of Kiwi pianist Richard Farrell and director Brian Brake. Brake's moody studio lighting and lively compositions frame this performance of a Chopin waltz. Farrell would die after a car accident in the United Kingdom in 1958 — the same month Brake won his first big spread in Life magazine. 

Mount Cook

Short Film, 1951 (Full Length)

After bad weather curtailed an ambitious film about Mount Aspiring in 1949, Brian Brake returned to the Southern Alps the following year to shoot Mount Cook — the first NFU film to feature Brake's mountain imagery in glorious blue and white colour. The wait was worth it: the longtime mountain-lover coaxes a succession of breathtaking images of the cloud-piercing mountain — plus a rollicking snow fight scene. The plot, what there is of it, centres on some skiers wandering closer to Aoraki/Mt Cook to get a better look, then demonstrating the joys of descent. 

Taranaki

Short Film, 1954 (Full Length)

Four decades before starring in The Last Samurai, New Zealand’s most symmetrical volcano stole the limelight in this NFU short. Extolling a mantra of progress and change, Taranaki presents New Plymouth as regional hub and suburban paradise, surrounded by bays and gladioli. Narrator Paul Ricketts touches on a conflict-soaked past by recalling his great grandmother’s nightly refuge in a central city stockade, during the 1860s Taranaki Wars. Back in 1954, a fishing license costs two pounds, and co-operatively-run dairy factories produce over half the nation’s cheese.