“I call Canada America. I’m talking about North America,” the photographer Fred Herzog said in an interview with photography website American Suburb X in 2013. “I don’t differentiate that much.”
In terms of the aesthetics of street photography, America and Canada don’t differentiate much either – they’ve both got big cars, oversized store signs, and busy pedestrians that have attracted the attention of photographers. As a result, Herzog’s photographs, on view at Laurence Miller Gallery through August 16 could pass for textbook Americana– if it weren’t for the fact that they were made in Vancouver.
The collection is so Walker Evans, so William Eggleston – and yet still so Fred Herzog. But as easy as it would be to place Herzog in a very American tradition of street photography, it would be a mistake to see him only in relation to his peers across the border. His eye is his own.
Herzog was born in Germany in 1930 and moved to Canada in 1952. He worked as a medical photographer by day, and in his time off photographed the streets of Vancouver using glorious Kodachrome color slide film. His work didn’t really capture the attention it deserved until 2007, when it went up at the Vancouver Art Gallery. By then, Herzog was in his 70s.
For an artist who failed to achieve widespread visibility for so long, it is a poetic sort of irony that so much of the work on view here appears to capture people in the process of seeing or being seen. There’s the woman in red looking through a glass display at a collection of sarcophagi, all, of course, looking back at her. There’s the man walking on Granville Street under a pink umbrella, tossing a quick, distrusting glance back at Herzog’s lens. There’s the diverse group of gamblers at a local carnival, eyes transfixed on the game in front of them. And then there’s Herzog himself, captured in the reflection of a barbershop’s door, while, next to his image, magazine cut-outs of well-coiffed men looking in a myriad of directions adorn the window.
Indeed, through Herzog’s eyes, the world is one big cacophony of glances. And why not? There’s so much to see – and it all looks so good.