A New City

In a 2011 essay for Vancouver Magazine, Jeff Wall wrote about the dullness and ugliness of modern Vancouver architecture. Without discrediting Fred Herzog's street photography, Wall writes that it wasn't just Herzog's photography that was beautiful, but rather that the city was more beautiful back then. He writes:

 

I am observing that in almost every case where an older building was replaced with a newer one, the newer one is uglier, less gracious, and less enjoyable. In having become uglier and less enjoyable, they express only the lifelessness of their designers and builders, a dullness that is transmitted to the occupants and passersby. And this lifelessness has been the central artistic problem for photographers in Vancouver for the past 30 to 40 years.

 

Thus we are left with a city that is a new city; one that Jeff Wall would claim is too ugly to be pleasing; one that is too boring to be photographed. The so-called City of Glass is one with which artists and photographers are left to contend, in terms of trying to find beauty or aesthetic.

Or not.

Perhaps that was never the goal. Perhaps, the goal in the end for photographers like Herzog was to never take a beautiful photo of a city, but rather to capture something interesting and compelling - to engage in conversation. After all, aren't Herzog's photos interesting outside of the Vancouver context? A man with a bandaged hand and face on Hastings in the 60s. A woman's hand peeking through a curtain in a floor level store or apartment. Each of these could've been shot in any other city.

The challenges photographers are left with today are far different than those of Saul Leiter, Vivian Maier or William Eggleston. Our challenge is that we have become more boring. More than ever, we seek stability in good paying jobs. We dress the same with clothes made from brands that pump out shirts and jeans en masse. We eat at the same mediocre chain restaurants. We lack the ability to discern beauty when it's not drip fed to us by marketers. We lack taste. We do the same things as each other in the same ways as each other and we wonder why our architecture has become so banal, our lives so lacking in meaning, and our photos so devoid of character and aesthetic.

Above, a series in black and white, shot over a period of 3 years in Vancouver. They're boring and ugly and banal.