Continuing our series of blogs to mark the visit of the Duke and Duchess of Cambridge to New Zealand, I thought I would touch on one of the lesser known royal visits of the past, that of William’s grandfather, the Duke of Edinburgh, in December 1956. The relative obscurity of the visit was matched by that of one of the photographers who covered it: Brian Brake. Brake would go on to become New Zealand’s best known photographer from the 1960s to the 1980s, but at this point he was just another member of the press corps chasing a royal.
Actually, that’s not quite right. Brake had been a member of the prestigious, Paris-centred, photo agency Magnum for a year and a half and was becoming experienced in the techniques of the magazine photojournalist. Here he differed from most local newspaper photographers who were simply after the single best shot of the Duke at a given event. Brake’s mandate was more to create a magazine picture story, a series of photographs that captured the visit in its totality. This included photographing the spectators, and for me it’s these on-looker images that are the most interesting to come out of Brake’s coverage.
Brake shot 17 rolls of 35mm black-and-white film over the short duration of the tour and these have all been scanned by Te Papa and made available on our Collections Online website. Here you can browse through the full three or four days of the tour as seen by Brake. The sheet here is the first roll Brake took, showing the Duke on walkabout in Wellington. You can zoom in on it to get more detail.
The Duke was on a world tour, and arrived in New Zealand from the Olympic Games in Melbourne, where Brake had also been photographing. An examination of the contact sheets shows that after his downtown walk the Duke was driven up to Wellington’s Mt Victoria lookout. (The next photograph and the ones following are enlargements of individual frames on the contact sheets and consequently of low resolution.)
I like the last image here, of the royal car departing and some boys on bikes following on behind. It seems to capture perfectly the aftermath of an important event, where formality has suddenly lapsed and disorder descended. The driver’s door doesn’t seem closed properly and the police protection and following official cars are nowhere to be seen.
The Duke then visited to the Wellington wharves to watch timber being loaded. This was followed by a trip to Kawerau to view what was described at its opening in 1955 as ‘New Zealand’s greatest industrial enterprise’, the pulp and paper processing plant. Here we see a visit to the office, with staff all standing to attention.
The next sheets cover a meeting with Edmund Hillary on Lyttleton wharves. This was probably to view the New Zealand expedition boat for the Commonwealth Trans-Antarctic Expedition. Hillary led the supply depot part on the Ross Sea side of Antarctica and controversially departed from plan and drove his tractors to the South Pole. The Duke was very interested in the expedition and sailed south on the royal yacht Britannia to meet up with it in Antarctica.
The wharf visit was followed by some agricultural experiences for the Duke, presumably in the Canterbury region. Brake’s images of rural spectators again make the most interesting viewing.
A shot of other photographers covering an aerial topdressing demonstration produced an disorderly image where things look possibly just a little out of control.