Ferenc Berko, a Hungarian-born photographer who was a pioneer in the use of color film and helped to put Aspen, Colo., prominently on the map, died on March 18 at a hospital in Aspen where he had lived for half a century. He was 84.
After capturing faces, places and figures throughout the world and briefly settling in Chicago, Mr. Berko accepted an invitation in 1949 to visit Aspen, a crumbling old silver-mining town, to record the transformation that was about to take place. It was an experience that would change his life.
Aspen's developers, headed by Walter Paepcke, then president of the Container Corporation of America, and his wife, Elizabeth, had arranged for Aspen that summer to host the 200th anniversary celebration of the birth of Germany's greatest poet, Johann Goethe.
Colorado and Goethe seemed an unlikely pairing, but the Goethe Bicentennial Convocation turned out to be a huge success, attracting world-class artists and intellectuals -- not to mention gobs of publicity.
Mr. Berko documented the event, capturing the pianist Arthur Rubenstein riding the chairlift, the playwright Thornton Wilder delivering a lecture, and the medical missionary and social philosopher Albert Schweitzer in a formal portrait.
These and other photographs of Aspen appeared in the mass-circulation magazines, Life and Look, making Mr. Berko a local celebrity. He remained in Aspen until his death.
Critics and historians of photography have recognized that Mr. Berko was one of the earliest artists to become aware that color film provided an opportunity to explore the world in a new way.
Philip Yenawine, who organized a show of Mr. Berko's work in 1981 at the Aspen Center for the Visual Arts, wrote that Mr. Berko's innovative use of color was ''not simply a technical improvement, nor a better way of documenting reality, nor a way to extend black-and-white photography -- which depends mostly on the play of light and shadow to produce its imagery; color film allowed the artist a chance to make pictures the subjects of which was color.''
Mr. Berko also found expressive new ways to photograph the human figure. One of his pictures that was exhibited at the Sarah Morthland Gallery in Chelsea in 1997 showed a pedestrian on a city street twisting around to watch a woman fix her garter. Writing for The New York Times, the critic Vicki Goldberg said the image was ''so fraught with tension between elements within the frame that the camera finds it an occasion for rejoicing.''
Ferenc Berko was born on Jan. 28, 1916, in Nagyvarad, Hungary. His parents died when he was a child and he was raised in Germany by family friends who were artistically sophisticated and saw a good deal of Walter Gropius, founder in 1919 of the Bauhaus, the progressive school of art, architecture and design, and other Bauhaus regulars. This was Mr. Berko's first exposure to the avant-garde that was reshaping the art world.
When the Nazis came to power, Mr. Berko fled to England where he studied with the photographer Otto Emil Hoppe.
Over the succeeding years, Mr. Berko lived in Dresden, Frankfurt, Berlin, Paris, Bombay, Morocco, Mexico, Chicago and finally Aspen.
''I did everything,'' he recalled in 1978 in an interview with The Aspen Times. ''In winter, I did ski action things. I took pictures of all the ski classes. I did portraits, weddings, every function in town I covered and then sold prints.''
During the off-season at Aspen, Mr. Berko traveled across the United States, doing commercial work for companies like Samsonite and Pittsburgh Paints, making portraits that included the official portraits of the United States Secretary of Transportation and the United States Secretary of Education, and taking architectural assignments.
Mr. Berko is survived by his wife, Mirte, and two daughters, Gina Berko and Nora Berko, all of Aspen.
All images © Berko