Unboxing ‘Fred Herzog: Modern Color’

Fred  Herzog: Modern Color, has been sitting in my “to review” pile for nearly a year (or more?), since I jumped on a pre-order of it (if I recall). I don’t know what I’ve been waiting for… time to look more closely at it, probably, and the work deserves more time than I’ve given it. Herzog’s street work from 1950s and 60s Vancouver is gorgeous and Hatje Cantz did a great job with the printing.

With essays in English and German from David Company, Hanz-Michael Kœtzle, and Jeff Wall, Modern Color situates Herzog in the pantheon of mid-20th Century street photography, perhaps somewhat belatedly, with the first exhibitions of this work coming in the late 00s, and this book being only the second major monograph and the first to receive such a wide availability. Fred Herzog: Photographs (Douglas & McIntyre, 2011) was the first, as far as I know, and a first edition of it runs nearly $200 on the used market these days, but Modern Color can be had for a relative song all over the Internets.

David Company gives a brief history, then situates Herzog among Walker Evans, Saul Leiter (another late-comer to the pantheon), Robert Frank, and Lee Friedlander; Kœtzle gives a history of color as a medium, and reminds us that Herzog was shooting accomplished color work two decades before Eggleston had his MoMA show; and Wall tells us about the Vancouver we’re about to see through Herzog’s lens.

Kodachrome certainly gave us those nice, bright colors, the gleam of summer, and etc., and Herzog used it to great effect. The Vancouver work that makes up most of the book is gorgeous, and the sprinkling of other locations seems less out of place (or time) than it otherwise might, thanks to the nearly uniform palate over 4 decades of work.

The vast majority of pictures were taken in the 1950s and 60s, with a strong showing from the 70s and a few from the 90s and 00s; most were taken in Vancouver and environs, with a few from Guatemala. None of that really matters much, though.

Herzog’s sense of timing and composition are excellent and worth studying, and I’m a little bit ashamed to have let this book just sit for all these months. I’m pretty sure I read the essays, maybe 6 months ago, but never made the time to pound out a quick review, with apologies to Fred and the publishers, I guess.


Fred Herzog: Modern Color makes for a great coffee table companion. It’s beautifully printed, wildly inexpensive (I paid cover price for it, and had I waited just a bit, it’s now going for half of that now),  just be sure you actually study it some, and don’t just leave it to sit. Don’t be like me.

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