Julius Shulman Chronicler of Moderism Dead at 98
The world has lost an icon. Celebrated architectural photographer Julius Shulman, recognized around the world for his iconic black and white photographs of mid-century modern houses, died July 15th at his California home. The cause was heart failure.
Born in Brooklyn, NY, Shulman spent most of his life in Los Angeles. Interested in many things, Shulman came into photography by accident and left the field a giant. It was a chance meeting with architect Richard Neutra in 1936 that launched his career and put him on the path to becoming one of most important architectural photographers that ever lived.
”It was a draftsman in our office who introduced Shulman to my Dad”, said Dion Neutra, an architect and the son of Richard Neutra” “He took pictures of the Kun House and showed them to my Dad”. That shoot proved to be a defining moment in Shulman’s career. It marked the beginning of a long collaboration between the two men and importantly led to commissions with other architects. Wim de Wit, Head of the Department of Architecture and Design for the Getty Research Institute, which houses the Shulman Archive, said Neutra was so pleased with Shulman’s work that he introduced him to his other architect friends, including Rafael Soriano, who would later design Shulman’s house. Over the course of his career, which spanned nearly eight decades, Shulman photographed the works of nearly every important modernist architect working in California in the 50s and 60s. In addition to Neutra and Soriano, Shulman’s clients included such architectural luminaries as Pierre Koenig, John Lautner, Charles Eames, Rudolf Schindler, Albert Frey, Bruce Goff and Frank Lloyd Wright. But as important as these commissions were, Shulman was also interested in documenting anonymous architecture and everyday life in California.
Regardless of his subject, “Shulman was meticulous,” said Dion Neutra. He went to great lengths to get the shot right. “We were shooting this house in Corona that looked out over a reflecting pool in the distance. The problem was there was this telephone pole in the way. Shulman got this idea to move a light inside the house and line it up with the pole so that the pole disappeared from the shot”. Neutra recalled other occasions when his Dad and Shulman would compose photographs together, with Neutra often holding up a Eucalyptus branch to the camera’s lens as Shulman snapped the shot.
Shulman will be remembered for having chronicled the rise of Modernism in the US. “It was the beginning of a more interpretive period in architectural photography”, said Peter Aaron, who apprenticed with Ezra Stoller and is himself one the leading architectural photographers practicing today. “ I think he understood how to enhance the original. Ezra and Shulman were able to witness the big switch to modernism in architecture and to document it”.