JULIUS SHULMAN | THE DEFINING EYE OF ARCHITECTURAL PHOTOGRAPHY

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When people speak of architectural photography, these two images always come up as arguably the most iconic and moving of all. You may not know the photographer’s name, you may not know the architect– but if you’ve ever seen these images and appreciate both photography & architecture, they are most likely seared on your mind’s eye.

Julius Shulman was a photographer for 70+ yrs, capturing some of the world’s most amazing structures and spaces ever created by man. He set the standard that others now strive to reach, and when they can’t– they may simply stage or frame a shot using his famous works like a proven template as homage and acknowledgement that it just doesn’t get any better. Shulman brought Mid-Century Modern to the world as much as the legendary architects he worked with. Sought out not just for for his incredible eye– he had an innate ability to understand and interpret the architect’s intent, and tell that story strikingly with laser-like focus. Correction: Shulman didn’t set the standard– he is the standard.

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Architect Richard Neutra’s “other” Kaufmann House built in Palm Springs, 1946– the first being Fallingwater, and yes– Frank Lloyd Wright’s feathers were indeed ruffled over this apparent snub when Pittsburgh department store magnate Edgar J. Kaufmann selected another architect for this project. Published in the LIFE Magazine feature “Glamourized Houses” in 1949. –Image by © Julius Shulman / J.Paul Getty Trust / Julius Shulman photography archive. “No other architect Shulman worked with was as controlling as Neutra. He would look through the viewfinder and adjust the camera, only to have Shulman move it back when he turned his head. Theirs was a battle of egos, of who was in charge of what and whom. This was never more so than when Shulman photographed the Kaufmann House on a 1947 evening. He set up inside as the sun began to fall behind the mountains, but to capture the fleeting dusk he decided to move outdoors. Neutra wanted him to stay put. Shulman ignored him and placed the tripod on the lawn facing west. As the sky darkened, the house glowed. For the next 45 minutes Shulman ran in and out of the glass house, switching lamps on and off, opening and closing the shutter to burn in the light. At the end of the exposure he asked Mrs. Kaufmann to stretch out on the deck. Who wouldn’t want to imagine themselves there? The photograph, its lights and darks forming a thousand shades of gray, the geometric lines of the house set against the jagged range, would become one of Shulman’s two most reproduced works.” –Mary Melton

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Architect Pierre Koenig’s 1960 Stahl House, Case Study House #22, Los Angeles, California.  –Image by © Julius Shulman / J.Paul Getty Trust / Julius Shulman photography archive. “l wanted to breathe some air into the house, not to pose them (the girls) with their faces in the camera necessarily, but to get a feeling of natural activity, as well as using them for scale. After all, architecture is for people. It was a warm night, and I was inside photographing the house with Pierre. I happened to step outside and saw the view, and here the girls were sitting through the glass, just having a conversation. My assistant was setting some lights for me (we were doing an interior photograph) and then when I saw what was going on, I quickly came back in the house and told everyone, ‘We’re changing the composition,’ brought the camera outside, and readjusted the lights. My wife used to say. ‘After all, it’s only a glass box with two girls sitting in it.’ But somehow that one scene expresses what architecture is all about. What if I hadn’t gone outside to see the view? I would have missed a historic photograph, and more than that, we would have missed the opportunity to introduce this kind of architecture to the world.”  –Julius Shulman, The Making of an Icon

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More reading on Julius Shulman:

A SHOT IN THE DARK | LOS ANGELES MAGAZINE

LENS MASTER | LOS ANGELES MAGAZINE

THE MAKING OF AN ICON | TASCHEN READING ROOM

JULIUS SHULMAN (1910-2009) | ARCH DAILY

GLAMOURIZED HOUSE | AN ANNOTATED & ILLUSTRATED BIBLIOGRAPHY

 STAHL HOUSE | CASE STUDY HOUSE NO. 22

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7 thoughts on “JULIUS SHULMAN | THE DEFINING EYE OF ARCHITECTURAL PHOTOGRAPHY

  1. Great article! Theres a Richard Neutra house right here in Chester County PA – owned by my old college professor.

  2. Behind every architect are two more specialists that architects would rather you never heard of:

    - Architectural Engineers; Ove Arup, Sydney Opera House

    - Architectural Modelmakers

    A contemporary of the wonderful Schulman was the equally gifted Ezra Stoller

    http://www.moma.org/collection/browse_results.php?object_id=82394

    http://www.vam.ac.uk/vastatic/microsites/architecture/gal_ex_object.php?id=11&parent=1&object=151&area=2/

    http://www.artfund.org/artwork/9532/architects-model-for-easton-neston-northamptonshire

    http://collections.vam.ac.uk/item/O83180/architectural-model-the-tempietto/?print=1

  3. Bertrand Goldberg once said that without the architectural photography firm Hedrich Blessing, “there would have been no contemporary architecture.” You should look into their work. All of the firms know who they are.

  4. Well you just hit smack dab into one of my favorite photographers . The film ; ” Visual Acoustics ” shows up on Sundance Channel and Ovation from time to time and is very much well worth the watch .The soundtracks well worth a listen as well .

    Talk about a man doing one thing and one thing only ; Extremely well J.S. was one of those

    I just ordered his book from Atomic Ranch and can’t get enough of J.S’s photos : as well as articles about the man .

    Sadly the ART of architectural photography as well as architectural photographers seems to have become a dying breed of late , what with everyone and his/her brother with a Digital Camera thinking they can do the job as good as any .

    One look at J.S’s portfolio in comparison to what passes as Architectural Photography today shows you what a specialist/experts hand can do .

    We need a few more ‘ Experts’ in this age of over generalization

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