I saw the Fred Herzog show at the VAG last night – and I wasn’t alone. The place was packed, full of under-30s. Like those of us old enough to remember some of the places captured by Herzog’s camera, they were amazed at the compositional quality and play of colour in his prints. Read more »
The younger ones came, I think, to gain into insight into a Vancouver they never had the chance to see. (Though that sentiment shouldn’t be overdone: so much of what Herzog physically saw from the 1950s to the 70s is still here. One West End shot has most of the elements remaining: the B.C. Electric building, the houses of Mole Hill, the streetcar apartment building. But like the shots of Hastings Street in the Downtown East Side, the people, the mood, the social reality – all irretrievably changed.)
What makes Herzog so important, with a status that goes well beyond Vancouver, is his use of colour. No other photographer of the street was using colour stock back in the 1950s; it was considered too garish, too associated with advertising. Herzog’s collection, until recently, was almost entirely on slides, since prints didn’t give the quality he desired when enlarged. Now digital imaging allows what you see on the walls of the gallery.
Or in books:
(A mixed bag of essays, but worth the trip.)
Herzog documents the Vancouver we were – and many will lament the loss. Don’t. We’re not that different, just evolved. There is no clean break from the city that Herzog saw. Like it, he is still with us, still walking the same streets for the same purposes.
Even racially, Herzog captured the early days of the city we have become:
Some of his works, like Jackpot, look as though Jeff Wall had set them up. Some are immortal: perfect moments from the 1950s. They certainly deserve life beyond the gallery walls. Suggestion: create bus-shelter scale posters and mount them on the streets on which they were taken. Or, like in Montreal, build an outdoor gallery, perhaps on the sidewalks of Georgia Street or on the old Larwell Park site (between Hamilton and Beatty), perhaps the home of the new Art Gallery, certainly the location of the Olympic gathering place in 2010.