Thursday, March 1, 2012

Back to the sixties


I enjoy theme days, those days when I get to combine activities that are related. Like the summer day when my best friend came to visit from Toronto, and we spent the day in the Little India district here in Vancouver. We browsed jewelry stores, trying on armfuls of sparkly bracelets, and she bought a silky pashmina. I loved the fabric stores full of the bright, shimmering colours that haunt my paintings. We ate lunch at an Indian buffet restaurant and then went home and watched a Bollywood movie. A perfect theme day.

Honestly, I wasn't drinking when I took this tipsy photo.


Today was a theme day. We went to the Equinox Project Space, an outpost of the Equinox Gallery. It is hidden away in a former manufacturing space in East Van, and is spectacular in its size and setting. The current show is a huge selection of Fred Herzog photographs.

Fred Herzog is a Vancouver photographer who worked very diligently during the sixties, photographing regular life in Vancouver, the streets, the people, the buildings. He is attracted to colour and pattern in daily life, with photos showing the glamourous neon signs of downtown or a simple wall of posted signs. What becomes clear in seeing so many of his works together is that Herzog is a genius at waiting for that perfect moment when a subject will cast the interesting shadow, or somehow capturing intimate moments unnoticed. He beautifully juxtaposes the old and the new, the modern and the decrepit, all without judgement. His photos invite you to remember or to imagine how things used to be. When I first saw Herzog’s photographs five years ago, they were gathering crowds in the Vancouver Art Gallery, with people exclaiming happily at sights they remembered or recognized.  I think that the work is accessible on so many levels and art snobs or regular slobs can equally enjoy the photographs. The show continues until the end of March, and I would encourage everyone to see it. It is also viewable on line, but  of course seeing the large-scale photographs gives you a chance to revel in the details. Once you leave the show, you find yourself noticing all the little details of life, the people, the colours, everything you take for granted.

If I could buy one photograph in the show, it would be Kuo Kong Silk, which shows Chinese kids in Mountie hats. It reminds me of my own childhood, being a kid who looked Japanese, but felt 100% Canadian. In a way it encapsulates the whole cultural mosaic of Canadian immigration, the blending of new and old countries.

Ah, but what about the rest of theme day? For lunch, we went to Helen’s Grill at Main Street. I’ve always wanted to try it, since it looks completely retro from the outside and the inside looks original too. The d├ęcor is authentically orange and brown, there’s a long lunch counter and there are jukeboxes in the booths! It was as if we were transported back to the land of Fred Herzog’s photographs. 

2 comments:

  1. Nostalgia is an important part of the Herzog show, even a nostalgia for a time and place that you never experienced (faux-stalgia?). On the other hand it's clear that the the 50's and 60's were pretty much the same everywhere, even in Winnipeg. Finally, Herzog is a master of composition-every photo stops you in your tracks.

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    1. The difference being that Winnipeg was later to emerge from the 60's, proven by the excellence of its Value Village stores these days.

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