I can’t actually remember when I first met Brian but it was at some long-ago event. I was shy back then and hated having my photo taken. But there he was, standing oh so tall, with a glimmering sequin-covered jacket and a wide inviting smile on his face, gently coercing me and my friends to bunch up and smile. He made it so easy.
Over the years I bumped into him at so many events – Hero Parades and parties, the Big Gay Out, etc. Many of them I covered during my time hosting Queer Nation, and it was always so nice to have a quick chat with him. He talked to everyone and his larger-than-life benevolent presence was welcomed by all.
Brian was one of those rare individuals who it was impossible not to like. Always laughing and joking and putting people at ease, he made you feel special. Sometimes the interactions were fleeting, but he always wanted to make sure everything was OK.
It didn’t matter whether an event was big or small, he was everywhere soaking up the atmosphere and constantly clicking the shutter on his ubiquitous camera. I think that camera was a golden ticket that enabled him to interrupt conversations and gaggles of people who might otherwise not appreciate being asked to pose. Nobody seemed to mind Brian doing this because of his charm but also because he became an institution himself.
When you view his photographs you see a depth to them that is often missing in event images and definitely missing in selfies. Brian captured souls rather than just faces. His ability to connect even for just a moment with his subjects means their spirit shone in the pictures. There is no ego in the images, no ‘look at me’ posing. And that is because Brian’s soul was always out there for everyone to see. It was bright, effervescent, deeply loving, and reflected in the faces of those countless photographs.
Brian had indefatigable energy that was infectious. If you were feeling down Brian lifted you up.
In the last years of his life, he struggled with cancer. The disease ravaged his body but that energy and spirit never dimmed. I visited him at his home in Rotorua a few months before his death. He had lost weight and his physical condition had deteriorated, but he chatted away with me like he always had. Typical of his nature, he wanted to know how I was doing and needed to ensure that all was well. His attitude to illness was nonchalance – just another thing to deal with and he was damn sure it wasn’t going to beat him even if killed him. He didn’t shy away from the topic but it was obvious that he saw more to life than decline and death. His humour was intact, as was his concern for others.
Many years before, I’d asked Brian about his mission photographing and documenting the lives of our community. His answer was self-effacing – “It’s just something you do.” His use of a third-person pronoun illustrates clearly that he felt no ownership of his work. I know he loved doing it, and I’m pretty sure he was proud of what he achieved, but the images belong to the community. They are a gift he gave to us all with humility. I have a suspicion however that Brian felt he was given a bigger gift because we let him into our lives and loved him.
It is sad to think of his passing, but Brian wasn’t maudlin. He loved life and people. He spent his last moments with his devoted rescue dogs and his loving and ever-caring partner Matt. He died surrounded by love, as befits a man who gave out so much love himself throughout his remarkable life.
Brian Andrews 1957 – 2021
Note – I sent these words to Brian a few months before he died and he gave his blessing to them being published.
Due to covid lockdown in New Zealand, a celebration of Brian’s life will be held sometime in the future.
Here is a video interview I did with Brian a few years ago: