In a time when serious art photography was very much only associated with black and white, Fred Herzog blazed a trail of color that captured a window of time that covers almost half a century in the Canadian city of Vancouver.
Sadly, his work like almost all colorists at the time, was not taken seriously due to his use of color slide film. Almost all photography within the art world and within serious publications was shot in monochrome. So it is only more recently that his work is being recognized and discovered within exhibitions and books.
Born to Stuttgart, Germany, his parents died when Fred was young and he dropped out of school. He found work as a seaman on ships that eventually lead to him landing in Canada, with some stops along the way in Toronto and Montreal. He finally settled in, and has since become known for his time in Vancouver.
Working by day as a medical photographer, Herzog spent nights and weekends roaming the streets of his new Canadian home photographing daily life and documenting the old clapped-out wooden houses, brightly painted graphic advertising, neon signage and local store-fronts.
Herzog worked largely with Kodachrome slide film for over 50 years. This choice of medium, with its exceptional intense warm colors (especially in the reds), coupled with the wonderful subject matter and unique compositional style, results in street photos that are very different to the examples that had so far dominated the medium.
To me, his work recalls similar feelings from the amazing American artists, Edward Hopper and Norman Rockwell, particularly Hopper’s ‘Nighthawks’ that depicts a diner late at night. The perspective is very different to what we are used to, showing both the exterior street and architectural surrounds, whilst incorporating an outsider ethos where we observe the patrons inside from afar.
Fred Herzog’s ‘Main Barber’ photograph to me is quite reminiscent of this image. The interior and exterior elements, the quiet solitude of the lone man walking on the street and the photo’s pinned on the wall and the wonderful nostalgic colors of Kodachrome film.
Norman Rockwell’s work is some of the most recognizable illustrations and paintings of the 20th century. His images reflect daily American culture that is packed with story and people full of character from their worn clothes to lines on their faces. As a viewer of these paintings you have a sense that you are partaking in an intimate moment of someones life and leave feeling you got to know them well.
Many of Herzog’s images are reminiscent of these images. The late afternoon golden lighting has a soft painterly feel, the subjects are often in the middle of an activity, unaware of the photographic observer, and the chosen people are full of character.
I find his work to be very inspiring due both to the unique compositions, the use of color and the atmosphere found in many of the photos, and in particular, the people that are often times photographed from the rear. This adds a level of mystic with sometimes a hint of the face from under the brim of a cap or a slight turn to camera. It’s the type photographs I love and aspire to capture.
Fred Herzog’s book, Modern Color which was published recently in February, 2017 includes 230 photos of mostly his color images along with a few in black and white. The book also includes a number of very well written essay’s on Fred that help explain his process including an interesting fact he shot “with great consistency he averaged two rolls a week. That amounts to well over 100,000 exposures”. What an amazing wealth of content he produced!
The book is a great size in a square format of 11 x 11 inches allowing the images to be presented large. At 320 pages and printed on very high quality stock, it faithfully reproduces the rich colors from the original slide film. At $45.00 RRP, and often much cheaper on Amazon (I got my copy for $33.61), I highly recommend this book.