A flaneur with an eye for the essential, Fred Herzog is considered a pioneer of color photography. Long before the genre was recognized as documentary or artistic style, he used it to observe everyday life in Vancouver, paving the way for the New Color movement. An extensive monograph, Modern Color takes the reader through the photographic oeuvre of this German-born Canadian immigrant, telling the story of the streets as he observed them between the 1950s and late 1980s.
Immigrating to Canada from Stuttgart in 1952, Herzog worked as a medical photographer by day, using his spare time in the evenings and on weekends to stroll the streets with his camera observing, discovering and feeling his way under the skin of the city he described as “engagingly seedy and colorful.” He worked exclusively with Kodachrome film⎯at the time considered an amateur product for home slide shows⎯captivated by its ability to reproduce details of color, texture and atmosphere. Though he has been working prolifically since the 1950s, Herzog’s work was relatively unknown until 2007 when digital inkjets enabled him to print and exhibit his early photographs.
Street photography was not a thing at the time, but Herzog did it with passion and variety. Awash with vibrant color, complex, mysterious, exuberant and full of life, his images captured the grain of the city as it lived, worked, played and changed. His eye dwelled on the raw urban underbelly of the city on streets, alleyways, empty lots, backyards, storefronts, neon signs, billboards, cafes, crowds of people and their daily interactions with each other and the city around them. He preferred working-class neighborhoods, which he described as “unpredictable and full of chance.” He once recalled, “I wanted to show the world the way it is.” Characterized by a synesthetic quality and outsider’s sensitivity, these images paint a rich and elegiac portrait of a lost era.
The most comprehensive publication on this important photographer to date, Modern Color brings together more than 230 images, many never before reproduced, and features essays by acclaimed authors David Campany, Hans-Michael Koetzle and artist Jeff Wall.
Fred Herzog’s Modern Color can be purchased from Hatje Cantz for €38.00 in hardcover.
All photos by Fred Herzog. Images featured here are as follows: Jackpot, 1961 © Fred Herzog and Equinox Gallery; Boat Scrapers 1, 1964 © Fred Herzog and Equinox Gallery; and Ferry Barber Shop, 1959 © Fred Herzog and Equinox Gallery.