Photography

Jalopy World

Mandelbrot

Decades before there was a “Vancouver school” of photography (also known as photo-conceptualism), there was a Photography of Vancouver, as invented or discovered by Fred Herzog in the early 1950s, when he began taking pictures in a city that had barely entered the photographic record (at that time defined largely by the streets of Paris, New York, Chicago, et al.). Herzog arrived in Canada from Germany in 1953, when he was twenty-three years old, and as early as 1956, as he recollects in an interview in Fred Herzog: Vancouver Photographs (Douglas & McIntyre), he had begun to see and to confront the “many manifestations” of North American cities, “in icons, archetypes and bipolar contrasts.” He cites Lewis Mumford, Honoré de Balzac and Egon Friedell as the authors who most informed his sensibility, along with John Dos Passos, whose novel Manhattan Transfer seemed to Herzog to “match up” perfectly with his approach to the photography of cities. In 1958, Herzog first saw the work of Robert Frank in The Americans, a book that changed the history of North American photogaphy (Frank, like Herzog, was an outsider, a recent immigrant from Europe). Herzog’s remarkable photograph of seven teenagers and an automobile was taken somewhere in North Vancouver in 1958 and stands as prophecy and confirmation of the work of Robert Frank (and, incidentally, of Jack Kerouac, who wrote the foreword to The Americans). Over the decades this image has evolved into the dream of an epoch recollected in tranquility. These young people seem so perfectly to have deployed themselves within the jalopy world, to have fallen in a moment into the gesture and style of the age: here is the miracle of the glance, the gaze, the pose, and the beautiful ugly mud- spattered surface of the perfect jalopy of its time (no windshield, no roof; these lives are on display; hair must be combed and recombed: the boys have already tended to their ducktails, and we can’t see the rattail combs in their back pockets, but we remember them always to have been there). The age began for these young people with Marlon Brando in The Wild One, and James Dean, and Elvis Presley, who at the time this photograph was taken was at the height of his rock ’n’ roll power. The energy of teenagers, the languid insouciance, the self-confidence of a new generation are revealed in this photograph, which at the time stood as well for the trepidation of the adults for whom teenagers were a warning or rebuke (The Wild One was banned in England until 1968). A retrospective of Fred Herzog’s Vancouver photography remains open at the Vancouver Art Gallery until May 31, 2007 (or see www.fredherzog.com).

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