Brian Brake’s life story told through his passports

Archivist Jennifer Twist looks at photographer Brian Brake’s passports and discovers how much of one’s life can be revealed through them.

Personal Ephemera, 1951-1997, by Brian Brake. Gift of Mr Raymond Wai-Man Lau, 2001. Te Papa (CA000826)

Personal Ephemera, 1951-1997, by Brian Brake. Gift of Mr Raymond Wai-Man Lau, 2001. Te Papa (CA000826)

A life few can imagine

Brian Brake was a Magnum photographer, a cameraman, and director with the National Film Unit (1949–1955).

Brian Brake, New Zealand, maker unknown. Gift of Mr Raymond Wai-Man Lau, 2001. Te Papa (CT.056019)

Brian Brake, New Zealand, maker unknown. Gift of Mr Raymond Wai-Man Lau, 2001. Te Papa (CT.056019)

Brake worked as a freelance photographer in Europe, the United States, the Middle East, and South-East Asia for magazines and books including Life, Paris-Match, National Geographic, and Horizon. He also directed films for the Time-Life Corporation and for his own company, Zodiac Films.

British Passport New Zealand, 20 June 1951-20 June 1956, by Department of Internal Affairs. Te Papa (CA000826/001/0001)

British Passport New Zealand, 20 June 1951-20 June 1956, by Department of Internal Affairs. Te Papa (CA000826/001/0001)

Brian Brake’s passports

Within the Brake Archive collection here at Te Papa we have 10 of his passports dating from 1951 until his last in 1987.

Brake’s first passport was issued on 20 June 1951, and most likely he needed it to travel to the UK and Europe to study colour cinematography.

The photo above depicts a 24-year-old, auburn-haired young man and it’s possible that this photo was taken by either Spencer Digby or at the Spencer Digby Studio.

The front cover bears the words ‘British Passport New Zealand’ under ‘national status’. Page one bears the words ‘British Subject and New Zealand Citizen’.

British Passport New Zealand, 20 June 1951-20 June 1956, by Department of Internal Affairs. Te Papa (CA000826/001/0001)

British Passport New Zealand, 20 June 1951-20 June 1956, by Department of Internal Affairs. Te Papa (CA000826/001/0001)

Travel highlights

Between the years 1956 to 1973 Brake’s passports, although issued for five years, had to be renewed annually due to a shortage of space for further entry/exit stamps or visas.

In the winter of 1955 Brake travelled to Moscow on his first major magazine assignment.

In 1956 he covered Queen Elizabeth II’s tour to Nigeria and in Beijing in 1959 he photographed the 10th anniversary celebrations of the Chinese Revolution.

In 1962 Brake began living in Hong Kong in order to continue covering Asia. He also visited Japan in 1963-64 and in 1965 he photographed a series on the Roman Empire for Life magazine.

Brian Brake visited the Middle East, Sri Lanka, South East Asia, Australia, China, India, Egypt, Indonesia, Thailand, Papua New Guinea, Fiji, and others.

In total Brake travelled to 41 countries over his career and to some he went multiple times.

British Passport New Zealand, 18 March 1958-16 April 1968, by Department of Internal Affairs. Te Papa (CA000826/001/0003)

British Passport New Zealand, 18 March 1958-16 April 1968, by Department of Internal Affairs. Te Papa (CA000826/001/0003)

Brian Brake returned to live permanently in New Zealand in 1976, but continued to work internationally until his death in August 1988.

New Zealand Passport of Brian Brake

New Zealand Passport, 07 April 1987-07 April 1997, by Department of Internal Affairs. Photograph by Jennifer Twist. Te Papa (CA000826/001/0010)

The future of passports

Since 2006 machine-readable passports have been phased in and I can’t help but wonder if in the not too distant future the passport as we know it will cease to exist.

Once biometric identification becomes the norm and all travel information is retained on computer perhaps this will negate the need for us to carry our passports for identification.

I wonder then how will future researchers access this type of information to piece together the lives of New Zealanders who excelled on the global stage.

When/if this time comes I will miss these physical objects – from handling something that travelled the world to far off places to the smell of them when opening their storage box – sometimes, I even think I can detect a slight whiff of cologne or after shave.

With thanks to Athol McCredie, Curator Photography, Arts.

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