Paying Attention to Changing Urban Landscapes

The Capture Photography Festival is on now in Vancouver until the end of April. One of the many galleries participating in Capture is the Pacific Gallery. There, the work of street photographers like Fred Herzog, Berenice Abbott, and Vivian Maier are on display in an exhibit called Paying Attention.

Capture Festival at the Pacific Gallery

The Capture Festival is Western Canada’s largest photography festival and has been running annually since 2013.  Art is exhibited across the city in dozens of galleries, museums, and other venues with the goal of connecting Vancouver to the world.

Paying Attention

Paying Attention features seven photographers who photographed seven different cities. They are united by their impetus to capture the cities as they change, documenting a span of one hundred years. Paying Attention showcases photographers whose work articulates the often overlooked changes in their urban environments during periods of rapid growth. What is most familiar may be fleeting; these photographers make permanent the impermanent. All seven felt the impulse to document, with a sense of premonition, what would soon be gone. The photographers use “varying aesthetic strategies to present an alchemy of past, present, and future within a single image” providing us with powerful visual time capsules.

Hannah Reinhart of Equinox Gallery

Seven Street Photographers

One of the earliest photographers featured in Paying Attention is Berenice Abbott. She photographed New York City in the 1930’s, after meeting one of the first street photographers, Eugène Atget, while living in Paris. Her work captures New York’s vertical growth, and how development can completely change a landscape. The work of photographer Walker Evans, a contemporary of Abbott, similarly shows the present to viewers as if it is already the past. Evans does so through a layering of architecture, which creates texture.

Paying Attention Berenice Abbott photos and quote

Paying Attention has cleverly paired the work of William Eggleston and George Tice to comment on how cars change our landscape. Eggleston’s colour photograph of a roadside gas station contrasts the eerie black and white photograph by Tice of a gas station with a looming water tower in the background. Both feature automobile architecture.

Vivian Maier’s work was only discovered after her death, which can be seen in the documentary film Finding Vivian Maier. She worked as a nanny in Chicago while building a substantial body of street photography work. Maier’s photographs also capture the fleeting but her focus is on spontaneous gesture rather than disappearing or changing architecture.

The most recent photographs featured in Paying Attention are by Geoffrey James of Paris in the 2000’s. James examines how humans interact with the landscape. His images contain no figures but instead remnants of human elements. If not for the graffiti in one shot, one might think the photograph is from another century.

Paying Attention to a Changing Vancouver

A changing Vancouver is visible in the works by Fred Herzog. Herzog’s colour photographs of Vancouver’s neon signage and street shots of locals have become iconic. He was using colour film at a time when it was really only being used by fashion magazines. He specifically sent to Seattle for the Kodachrome film that is so recognizable for its warm oranges and reds.

Fred Herzog Paying Attention neon

Herzog worked as a medical photographer by day, and archived and kept the slides of his photographs until printing improved to his satisfaction in the early 2000’s. Herzog’s work captures a neon version of Vancouver that has since been lost. He understood the importance of waiting for the perfect moment, for the perfect lighting and saturation of colour, just as Maier waited for the perfect gesture.

If you want to see more of Herzog’s photographs of Vancouver, the Equinox Gallery has an exhibition devoted entirely to his work running the month of April. Fred Herzog of Time and Place presents never before seen black and white images alongside a selection of colour photographs. The Equinox Gallery represents the Estate of Fred Herzog, as well as about thirty artists with diverse practices in painting, sculpture, photography and video work. For fifty years, the gallery has been presenting the work of Canadian artists in the context of an international program. Equinox also facilitates collaborative projects to contextualize local artistic practices internationally.

Exterior Fairmont Pacific Rim Pacific Gallery

The Pacific Gallery is located on the second floor of the Fairmont Pacific Rim. Paying Attention is a fitting exhibit for a place like the Pacific Rim. The hotel beautifully captures the West Coast landscape in its design, while offering accommodation to travellers from around the world. Paying Attention is on now until May 27.



About Bronwyn Lewis 63 Articles
Bronwyn Lewis is a food writer for the Vancouver Guardian. She’s also a screenwriter and producer. Born and raised in Vancouver, Bronwyn lives in Mount Pleasant and you can follow all her food adventures on Instagram.