Fred Herzog was 20 years old—a late comer to photography—when he brought his first camera in 1950 and began shooting black-and-white pictures in his native Germany. Two years later, in search of work, Herzog traveled to Canada, eventually settling in Vancouver, where he still lives and works today. In 1953 on leave from his job in the shipyards, Herzog made the first of some 120,000 color photographs, on the city’s streets. The photographer treated the pictures “as a form of journalism,” using Kodachrome ISO10, a film that severely limited him technically in terms of what he could do. But Herzog was not afraid to take chances, shooting handheld even at night.
Herzog, does not claim to be the first color street photographer—for that honor, he cites his contemporary, the more lyrical New York street photographer Saul Leiter—but he was certainly among the first to produce a large volume of color images of this type. Herzog expanded street photography to encompass billboards, store windows and cars. The greater body of his images focus on the grittier aspects of Vancouver and they were a response to the culture he found in Canada. “In Germany you did not buy something secondhand—it is a social necessity to look successful,” he says. “For me it is not. Canada offered an interesting contrast. It had secondhand shops in the American idiom. I saw in the secondhand store windows the icons of Americanism in a picturesque jumble.” Herzog incorporated some of that Americanism into his work. “I showed the American dream on posters. I showed old cars, new cars, worn cars, people in cars and the decay of the car— more as a phenomenon than a social criticism,” he says, though adding that his intention was always “for his work to be ideologically neutral.”
Note: our readers reported that some images could not be done in Vancouver.