A Life Spent Capturing California's Modernist Architecture

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rey Residence I by Albert Frey, Palm Springs, California, 1956Photography by Julius Shulman © J.Paul Getty Trust. Used with permission. Julius Shulman Photography Archive, Research Library at the Getty Research Institute

A monumental new three-part tome from Taschen celebrates Julius Shulman's extraordinary legacy

1960s California has a rich and storied history – playing host to Berkeley’s free-spirited hippie movement and the amplification of the Civil Rights Movement to name but a few key events – yet, one of its most powerful legacies lies in its architecture – simple, organic, swooping modernist structures and ambitious, towering blocks. The movement arrived in a flurry of activity, and architectural photographer Julius Shulman was there to document it all, introducing the likes of Frank Lloyd Wright, Charles and Ray Eames and Pierre Koenig to households statewide through his magazine contributions. This summer, a newly reprinted three-book publication entitled Modernism Rediscovered, dedicated to his astounding legacy, will be back on the shelves, courtesy of Taschen.

Shulman’s first encounter with architectural photography occurred largely by accident, the book’s foreword reveals; invited to visit the recently finished Kun Residence by one of Richard Neutra’s assistants, he took along a camera and tripod, and snapped away at the angular building while admiring it. It marked the serendipitous beginning of a long and fruitful career; so impressed was Neutra by the images, which he felt “revealed the essence of my design”, that he commissioned Shulman to shoot more of his creations. “His hobby was suddenly his profession,” wrote Philip J. Ethington in his 2007 essay on the photographer. “Based on his early aesthetic and technical experiments as a hobbyist and an instinctive visual sense grounded in his deep love of the natural environment, Shulman quickly developed a highly distinctive style of architectural photography, marked by strong geometric compositions, high contrast, sharp focus, and evenly exposed interior and exterior spaces – a style ideally suited to the printed page.” This marked the beginning of a lifelong collaboration between the pair; Neutra schooled the young photographer in the nuances of modernist architecture, introducing him to fellow architects and to magazine editors, and in return, Shulman documented his life’s work.

Shulman’s extraordinary contribution to the modernist architectural movement extends far beyond his work for magazines, however; over the course of his five-decade strong career – he came out of retirement in the year 2000, at the age of 90, to work alongside fellow photographer Juergen Nogai – he amassed an unrivalled archive of photographs, which he spent much of the latter part of his career lending for exhibition, seminars, publications and similar. Likewise, he generously insisted on sharing new techniques as he learnt them, writing books to disseminate his ideas, and transferred his archive of over 250,000 negatives to the Getty Research Institute for the History of Art and the Humanities at the age of 94. “His success in translating the three-dimensional spaces of architecture to the two-dimensional space of photography earned him a reputation far beyond Los Angeles,” Ethington continues, “and his client list was starting to become a ‘who’s who’ of every great architect of the 20th century, including Oscar Niemeyer, Mies Van de Rohe, and Frank Lloyd Wright. In fact, Shulman was one of the inventors of architectural photography. Until the 1930s, architects usually took their own photographs, or commissioned unspecialized photographers to do so.”

Julius Shulman: Modernism Rediscovered is available now, published by Taschen.