Fred Herzog is 84 years old now, and he still takes the odd photo. The ones I love though are from the 1950s and ‘60s that show a Vancouver that most people ignored. Herzog immigrated to Vancouver from Germany, via Toronto in 1953 and soon after started work as a medical photographer. He retired in 1990.
When I read that he won the Audain prize for Lifetime Achievement in the Visual Arts, I went to my book shelf and revisited his work. His photographs are riveting. He found beauty in the back alleys of Chinatown and Strathcona, his camera captured ordinary people crossing ordinary streets, and his lens sought out our old houses and buildings now replaced by high-rises, condos and parking lots. Some of his pictures capture a moment in history—the destruction of the Englesea Lodge for instance—others are of neon and shadows and capture an edgy, raw Vancouver.
In 2006 Herzog told Vancouver Art Gallery curator Grant Arnold that his pictures were seen “as too common place, or they weren’t understood or sought after.”
That’s all changed says Andy Sylvester of the Equinox Gallery. “He has a large collecting audience not only locally and nationally, but also internationally and there are very serious collectors in the United States and in Europe.”
His smallest framed photographs sell for $2,600, and one of his larger, unframed shots will run to $4,000.
And while we take colour photography for granted now, in the 1950s it was cutting edge. “The history of street photography in the 1950s and 60s was primarily black and white,” says Sylvester. “It was a medium that wasn’t taken seriously as an artistic practice until very recently.”
You can visit Herzog’s work at the Equinox Gallery at 525 Great Northern Way.