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Brian Brake China book


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Just got a book , China in the 1950s, by New Zealand

photographer Brian Brake. Sorry, I don't have a web link for his

pictures, though someone might know.


Brake was a member of Magnum, and like the celebrated HCB

(who actually hired him), used a Leica and 50mm just about

exclusively. There's a pic of him with an M3 and collapsible

Summicron - a lens frequently looked down on these days.

Pictures are both B+W and colour, presumably Kodachrome.


Two things strike me about his pictures: first, how fresh and

natural they look. They could have been taken yesterday. There is

a delightful simplicity and happiness in children's expressions in

contrast to the posturing of the leaders and the staged look of

the parades. These images of course coincided with a traumatic

period in that nation's history, and Brake was lucky to capture

them. China was all but closed to "foreign devils".


The other thing is the technical qualily of the pictures: sharp

where they need to be, soft out of focus areas, bright but natural

colours. For all the technical advances of today, do we really

take better pictures now?

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Brake was also the photographer of "Monsoon," one of the most celebrated and argueably the most beautiful photo essay ever created. It ran in "Life," "Paris Match," and other magazines in the early 60s, and is reproduced in the "Photojournalism" volume of the Life Library of Photography.


Judging by the look of the photographs is this essay, he had acquired a wide angle and a portrait lens for his Leica before going to India. I believe he used Kodachrome II (ASA 25).

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The book sounds truly fascinating. Having visited China a number of times in the past 2 1/2 years, I certainly would like to see what it was like in the 1950s.


Mao's body (or what's left of it after more than 2 1/2 decades) continues to be on public display, while not more than 50 feet from the doors of the crypt/mausoleum, scores of hawkers sell everything from disposable cameras to pendants to pens and paperweights, and all other sorts of cheaply made crap for Western tourists.


There doesn't seem to be any shortage of traumatic periods for China.


Many people definitely get caught up in the gadgetry of photography or dwell on minor, minor points and forget the bigger picture ... or photo, if you will.

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