British Columbia

Decades later, Fred Herzog's colourful street photography of Vancouver still resonates

Local photographer Tom Hsu says street photographer Fred Herzog's ability to capture everyday life has influenced his own work. Now, as part of the Capture Photography Festival, some of Herzog's photographs are on display at the Equinox Gallery.

Fred Herzog: East Vancouver is on display until May 7

Photographer Fred Herzog captured this image, titled Black Man Pender, in 1958. Herzog was well-known for photographing everyday moments in Vancouver in the mid-twentieth century. (Courtesy of Equinox Gallery )

When Tom Hsu first discovered the work of Vancouver-based street photographer Fred Herzog while studying at Emily Carr University a decade ago, one thing that stood out to him was Herzog's ability to capture "genuine human moments," he said.

These include moments like the glow of neon signs on Granville Street, a storefront selling goods, or people dining in a cafe.

Hsu, now a photographer himself, says the way Herzog encapsulated the beauty of everyday occurrences has influenced his own work. Similarly to Herzog, Hsu says he likes to capture photographs to show what life is like at certain times, almost like a diary.

"One image can take you right back to a certain memory," Hsu said.

Some of the photography that inspired Hsu can now be viewed at Equinox Gallery's new exhibit, Fred Herzog: East Vancouver. It's part of the annual Capture Photography Festival, which showcases lens-based art at different venues across Metro Vancouver.

Photographer Tom Hsu, pictured in Richmond, B.C., says street photographer Fred Herzog's use of colour and ability to capture moments of human connection have inspired him throughout his own photography career. (Ben Nelms/CBC)

Hannah Reinhart, Equinox Gallery's exhibitions manager, says it's the first time an exhibition of Herzog's work focuses on a specific geographical region, and some never-before-seen images will be on display.

She says the photographs, taken from around 1953 to 1975, share a glimpse of what life was like in neighbourhoods such as Chinatown, Strathcona and the Downtown Eastside. 

"I think it's really the sort of dynamic street life in these neighbourhoods that he kept returning to year after year," Reinhart said.

Pioneer of colour street photography

Herzog, a German immigrant who moved to Vancouver in 1953, is best known for documenting life in Vancouver in colour.

He was self-taught and worked as a medical photographer at St. Paul's Hospital until 1990. Herzog passed away on September 9, 2019 at the age of 88.

Herzog used Kodachrome in his work, a type of colour film produced by photography company Kodak and known for showing intense colours.   

"He was really considered a forerunner of artists working in colour photography," said Emmy Lee Wall, executive director of the Capture Photography Festival.

Lee Wall says it was more common at the time for photographers to work exclusively in black and white.

'Paris Cafe,' shot by Herzog in 1959. Hannah Reinhart, Equinox Gallery exhibitions manager, says Herzog often photographed window displays, which resulted in several images within the frame. (Courtesy of Equinox Gallery )

Herzog captured intimate moments of people going about their lives, and he also liked to photograph window displays, says Reinhart, because the viewer gets three images: what's behind the glass, the signage printed on glass, and the reflection of the street.

She adds that his work only became well-known in that last 15 years because Herzog didn't print many of his photos, as the colours didn't show up the way he wanted them to. 

But with advancements in technology, she says, he was able to print his work to his satisfaction starting around 2006. Lee Wall says the first major recognition of Herzog's work came a year later, with an exhibition at the Vancouver Art Gallery.

This use of colour is another aspect of Herzog's work that Hsu has found inspiring. 

Photographer Tom Hsu captured this image of a couple looking at a restaurant menu in San Francisco's Chinatown in 2013. Similar to Herzog, Hsu captured people going about their lives while also highlighting the vibrant colours of the building's exterior. (Courtesy of Tom Hsu)

Hsu, 33, also likes to capture daily life through street photography and portraits.

He says he started to experiment with photography in high school. When he decided to pursue an arts degree, he says he was mostly working with black and white photography. 

But seeing how Herzog effectively used pops of colour to draw attention to everyday life inspired him to photograph in colour, too.

"You get so much vibrancy and depth with a colour photo compared to black and white," he said.

Fred Herzog: East Vancouver is on display at Equinox Gallery in Vancouver until May 7, 2022.