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Infiltration Forums > Archived Canada: Alberta / BC > Fred Herzog: Vancouver Photographs (Viewed 1125 times)
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Fred Herzog: Vancouver Photographs
< on 1/30/2007 2:52 AM >
Posted on Forum: UER Forum
 
I suppose most of you know about this already, but I'll post anyway for the few that might not.

Fred Herzog is an urban photographer who's been shooting the streets of Vancouver for the past 50 years. An exhibition of his work is on now at the Vancouver Art Gallery, and runs through to May 13th, and it looks like a show not to be missed.

Here's an article on the man from Saturday's Globe and Mail.



Vancouver's man of the streets

As a major retrospective opens, Fred Herzog talks to ALEXANDRA GILL about his 50-year quest to photograph his city 'from inside out'

ALEXANDRA GILL

VANCOUVER -- When the world looks at Vancouver's dense downtown core, with its shiny glass towers and green public spaces, the city is often held up as an enviable model of smart urban planning.

When Fred Herzog looks around at the streets he has been photographing for the last 50 years, he sees a Brave New World that has been sapped of its soul. "They took it all away," he says, looking nostalgically at the riot of colour in one of his digital prints now hanging at the Vancouver Art Gallery.

Fred Herzog: Vancouver Photographs, a retrospective of his work, and first major solo showing, opened on Thursday. This gentleman stroller of the streets is still unknown to most Canadians. Now 76, he worked as a medical photographer until 1990. It is only in the last decade that Vancouver's artistic community and collectors have started to pay serious attention to the unrivalled archive he pursued as a hobby.

The long-lost scene at which he's gazing, captured in Kodachrome brilliance, was taken at the corner of Columbia and Hastings in 1958. The sidewalk bustles with working-class men in jaunty fedoras. Overhead, a wild cluster of neon signs shoots out from gritty storefronts, billiard rooms and the Smilin' Buddha Cabaret.

That very same street corner, located smack dab in the middle of what is now known as the Downtown Eastside, is currently making headlines around the world for its association with murder, desolation and ravaged urban blight.

It has become part of a segregated dumping ground for social undesirables who don't fit into the new squeaky-clean confines where the city's other half lives.

But back in the fifties and sixties, it was a vibrant commercial district, pulsating with energy, character and hope for a better life in an exciting young city. Or at least that's how the young German émigré behind the camera saw it.

Herzog pauses in front of another photograph, of Granville Street at night, when the old Theatre Row was aglow in fluorescent neon. "That was the only colour we had," he says. "They took it all away because they thought it was degrading."

He is referring to the city-council ordinances of the 1970s that limited the kinds of signage businesses could use. For Herzog, it was the beginning of the end of the "disordered vitality" that had inspired his collection of some 100,000 streetscapes. "Now, it's not really a convivial city," he continues. "It has been enriched in other ways, but not for the people who want to enjoy the street. Not for people like me. I am a flâneur."

It was 1957 when Herzog first started meandering the streets of downtown Vancouver, after work and on weekends, with his camera at the ready. But the self-styled flâneur was not cut from the same silk cloth as Baudelaire's bourgeois dilettantes. He had no interest in the lives of the wealthy and their satin gowns and stiff tuxedoes.

"Boring," he says, shrugging, as he continues the guided tour.

Inspired by such documentary photorealists as Walker Evans and Robert Frank, Herzog found himself drawn to everyday people and their ordinary stomping grounds. He didn't stage his photographs, preferring to capture the subtle human gestures of people going about their daily business -- on front porches, in back alleys, at barber shops and outside grocery stores.

In smoggy streets, he saw glamour. In the crowded front windows of junk shops, he found treasure troves of culture.

"The second-hand shops were so interesting and full of iconic objects -- the horse with the clock in its belly, the fishing tackle, the cowboys," he says, sitting down to take a rest. "It was humble and personal and unsophisticated art, but art nevertheless. I prefer this art by shop owners, housewives and gardeners and even graffiti artists to what I call 'official' art.

"It's surprising how little is left," he continues with a weary sigh. "The goods in the shops have so much changed that, no matter how talented the owner is, it doesn't make a good picture. They put too many Christmas lights, or there is too much generic junk."

The screaming neon thoroughfares and quirky rough edges of a sleepy resource town on the verge of transition were particularly compelling to the young German immigrant who had watched his hometown of Stuttgart hollowed out by air raids during the Second World War.

An orphan at 16, he arrived in Canada in 1952 after a relative offered him a job in Toronto working for an importer of Czechoslovakian glassware. In an interview with VAG curator Grant Arnold, reprinted in the exhibit's companion book, he recalls Toronto as being "devastatingly ugly," and moved on to Vancouver within a year.

Upon reflection, the self-taught photographer softens his stance on Toronto. "It wasn't really that ugly. It was more the shock of me coming from another part of the world. I wasn't cognitive of the style I wanted to pursue. I wish I had the same frame of mind that I have now."

At a time when serious photographers worked only in black-and-white, Herzog made the radical decision to shoot his colour images on Kodachrome, a slide film with excellent sharpness and brilliant, saturated colours akin to a Technicolor movie.

"Black-and-white pictures don't speak like these," he says, pointing to a shot of a smartly dressed black man, walking through Chinatown with young daughter and leashed cocker spaniel (then the uberfashionable dog of choice for the aspiring middle class). "The colour adds an extra element of realism. You know what's going as soon as you see the picture. In black-and-white, it would have been a mess."

Herzog's unconventional techniques nonetheless limited his potential for exposure. Until the seventies, colour was dismissed by the art world, and generally associated with advertising. And the slides, which could not be properly reproduced as prints, were not easy to sell or exhibit.

As Arnold writes in his catalogue essay: "For much of his career, Herzog's work was caught not only in the difficult terrain between the monochrome aesthetics of art photography and the colour of mass culture, but also between the momentous space of the art museum and the marginal form of the domestic slide show."

Still, over the years, Herzog's pictures appeared in several books and magazines. He occasionally presented his slides at informal gatherings of artists, and for students at the University of British Columbia and Simon Fraser University, where he also taught photography part time. One of his more rare black-and-white photos of teenagers at a motorcycle rally was used for the cover jacket for Canadian band Prism's 1980 Young and Restless album. And he was highly revered as a cult figure of sorts by a small circle of Vancouver artists, photographers and historians.

But until recently, when advances in digital technology allowed him to make high-quality reproductions of his slides, Herzog's exhaustive body of work had gone largely unnoticed. Although his prints now sell for $3,000 at private galleries, the earlier lack of recognition is still somewhat puzzling, given the wide acclaim received by Vancouver's younger generations of photo-conceptualists.

Herzog admires the work of such local artists as Jeff Wall, Christos Dikeakos and Roy Arden -- Arden's early colour images of store windows and kinesics, in particular. But he says his objective, almost detached sense of realism is distinct from their intellectual frameworks and postmodern critiques.

His work, he says in the catalogue, "is conceptualized from inside out rather than from outside in. While the nature of my realism may not be evident in a single image, the sum total of a larger body of work will show clearly where I am coming from."

He points to Metropolis, a recent photo of Burrard Street, named after Fritz Lang's classic 1927 science-fiction film about a dystopian future society divided between privileged elites and impoverished masses. He says it is the natural bookend to the vibrancy found in the early photograph of Columbia and Hastings.

In the newer photo, a crowd is walking away from the camera, obscured by shadows from the falling winter sun. The splashy neon has been replaced by a long row of identical red flags hung on lampposts to herald some sort of civic-ordained festival. A Le Château store sign, the same one you see at the clothing retailer's outlets across the country, is barely visible in the corner.

"It's impersonal," says Herzog. "The people are moving away. They look like they could be automatically commanded and marched that way. There is no personality, no joy."

Fred Herzog: Vancouver Photographs runs at the Vancouver Art Gallery until May 13 (604-662-4719).

© Copyright 2007 CTVglobemedia Publishing Inc. All Rights Reserved.

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Re: Fred Herzog: Vancouver Photographs
<Reply # 1 on 1/30/2007 7:13 AM >
Posted on Forum: UER Forum
 
Great thanks for this post Emperor Wang. I'm a huge fan of Mr. Herzogs work. There was a good article in the Sun on him a couple of years ago. His work is exceptional. Thank God no one took his Kodachrome away...




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Farewell and thank you... "I was doing something that I thought could have some impact someday. In many ways, it's really these photographs that kept me going creatively." Dennis Hopper
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Re: Fred Herzog: Vancouver Photographs
<Reply # 2 on 1/30/2007 10:52 PM >
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Yeah. I read about it. I may want to head over to Vancouver to check it out.

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Re: Fred Herzog: Vancouver Photographs
<Reply # 3 on 1/31/2007 3:09 AM >
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Thanks for the heads up. I have never heard of this man. I must learn more.

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Re: Fred Herzog: Vancouver Photographs
<Reply # 4 on 2/1/2007 6:21 AM >
Posted on Forum: UER Forum
 
I've been looking forward to this exhibit, especially the photos he's got of the Downtown East Side circa 1950's. I plan to check it out this Friday. I've never been to the Art Gallery before so it will be a first.

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Re: Fred Herzog: Vancouver Photographs
<Reply # 5 on 2/4/2007 4:53 PM >
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Thursday is donations night, so you can pay with a hand fun of pennies if your broke, suggested donation $5

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Re: Fred Herzog: Vancouver Photographs
<Reply # 6 on 2/15/2007 5:27 AM >
Posted on Forum: UER Forum
 
I went, it's a good show. However I didn't see a picture I thought a man of his 'style' would have taken ... the old Dragon Inn Restaurant neon sign. Most of his stuff seemed to be of or near downtown. I'm sure there's 1000's more not showing this show though. Has anyone seen a picture of this sign? Anyone know what I'm talking about?

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Re: Fred Herzog: Vancouver Photographs
<Reply # 7 on 3/9/2007 6:02 AM >
Posted on Forum: UER Forum
 
Just back from a quick trip to see his impressive show. Also represented by the Equinox Gallery on Granville, at about 7th Street. They have a show there until Saturday, which is free. It's the same work as at the *VAG, but the photos are for sale, and there are of course much fewer. Inspiring prices too, for us photographers, perhaps following somewhat in Fred's footsteps. 2100.00 for a framed 2X3 footer, and larger ones were going for 3800.00.

At the VAG show, I was so overcome by the incredible cotton candy neon melt-in-your-mouth colors, I started licking the photos. The security people were kind, but said, 'stop that', and basically just followed me around with a bottle of Windex and a cloth.

(Really should take something for this OCD thing.)

*VAG (Stop that. Read the first post if you don't know what it stands for.)

I tried to make a normal post, I really did. Got halfway, and then just, well, don't know what to say. Why-O-Why can't I be normal like the other people on these forums??

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Re: Fred Herzog: Vancouver Photographs
<Reply # 8 on 3/10/2007 4:12 AM >
Posted on Forum: UER Forum
 
Went to the show at the Art Gallery last month. I have to say I was sort of disappointed, some of the photos I really wanted to see (that were printed in the newspaper) were not on display. Still a nice look back at what Vancouver used to be.

"We sleep safely in our beds because rough men stand ready in the night to visit violence on those who would do us harm." -George Orwell

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Re: Fred Herzog: Vancouver Photographs
<Reply # 9 on 3/10/2007 6:54 PM >
Posted on Forum: UER Forum
 
Posted by A. Lien

At the VAG show, I was so overcome by the incredible cotton candy neon melt-in-your-mouth colors, I started licking the photos. The security people were kind, but said, 'stop that', and basically just followed me around with a bottle of Windex and a cloth.



That's really poor gallery etiquette. Stick to licking security.

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Re: Fred Herzog: Vancouver Photographs
<Reply # 10 on 3/11/2007 2:09 AM >
Posted on Forum: UER Forum
 
Posted by KublaKhan


That's really poor gallery etiquette. Stick to licking security.



Well Mr. Wears-a-red-velveteen-robe-in-public- (and carries an odd looking gardening? tool), you have a good point or three . They were (italicK if I could on were) cute. ...Just got the double meaning, good one, ya, 'lick'; ie: to beat, not to a pulp but 'out wit' security. Sharp as cheese, sharp as the finest chowda...

My sister is Charlotte Light and Dark. Who am I?

Farewell and thank you... "I was doing something that I thought could have some impact someday. In many ways, it's really these photographs that kept me going creatively." Dennis Hopper
Infiltration Forums > Archived Canada: Alberta / BC > Fred Herzog: Vancouver Photographs (Viewed 1125 times)

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