Al Vandenberg old man

Al Vandenberg, Tate Britain, London 2010. Photograph Garry Rigby

Al Vandenberg (1932-2012) was born in Boston, USA. He studied photography in New York with Alexey Brodovitch, Richard Avedon and Bruce Davidson, and then worked in commercial photography – editorial, fashion, advertising and rock and roll. In the early 1960s he came to London, working again in advertising and fashion, but later abandoned his commercial practice altogether. Since the 1970’s Vandenberg’s own pictures – as against those by which he earned his living – have been made on the streets. He describes himself first, in New York, moving from one depressing neighbourhood to another, collecting indiscriminately, images of poverty, urban low-life and ethnic minorities, old people, street people – subjects already adopted and explored by Diane Arbus and Garry Winogrand.

“Everything I made money on was fucking up the world. I philosophised myself out of the business quick. All these people tell you they want to use you, and bloody hell they do. I was tired of making a living. I wanted to live instead”. Al Vandenberg

Later, as a fashion photographer travelling around the world, he was frustrated by his isolation from the street life around him, and in South East Asia, confronted with every form of exotic subject matter, he found himself returning to what he had always done – photographing the people on the streets. But the emphasis of the photographs had changed. Where earlier he had studied depression and poverty, producing the freakish images of alienation, he now photographed people looking smart and having a good time; people who attracted him and with whom he could establish a rapport. The series of high street photographs embraced the people of Singapore, Tokyo, Hollywood, Hong Kong, Laos and London, and totalled thousands of images. Those that the artist chose to exhibit are the images which show his subjects relaxed and responsive; sharing with him in the making of the picture.

Vandenberg died in 2012 having completed his third trip to China where he was preparing a body of work on its young people entitled The Good People of China’. 

“I photograph on a good day, when I feel good and the subject feels good”. Al Vandenberg

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