The Preeminent Photographer of the Modernist Architecture of Southern California
During the postwar era in Southern California, Julius Shulman emerged as the preeminent photographer of the innovative modernist architecture that was shaping the booming region. Influential architect Richard Neutra discovered Shulman’s images and soon Neutra, as well as architects such as Frank Lloyd Wright, would chiefly rely on Shulman to photograph their structures. He conveyed the distinctively modern buildings boldly and effectively to the world. By focusing not solely on the architecture but also on the environments surrounding them, Shulman became the favorite documenter of this unique moment in the history of design and the modern American lifestyle. Shulman said,
“there would evolve a freedom and creativity of expression that will make the photograph a work of art in its own right.”
Converting Three-Dimensional Spaces into Two-Dimensions
He creatively converted three-dimensional spaces into two-dimensions allowing the viewer to feel the architecture within their settings while deftly integrating the outside and interior environments. Often incorporating people into his work, Shulman added a more humanistic touch and warmth to his compositions making the new structures more accessible as well. They became living spaces alive with people and integrated into their environments rather than mere detached glass and steel constructions.
Case Study No. 22.
Perhaps nowhere are all of these elements more apparent than in Shulman’s remarkably composed “Case Study No. 22.” His famous image of Pierre Koenig’s recently completed house, a modernist icon itself, was a part of the Case Study Houses experiment begun in 1945 that were meant to be affordable and efficient homes for returned soldiers. Shulman composed the image on a warm evening in May 1960 right after the sun had set. Two young women sit chatting inside the glass-walled house that is boldly cantilevered over the Hollywood Hills, the lights of Los Angeles glittering to the horizon below them. Spherical lights illuminate the streamlined furniture and the girls who appear as if they are waiting for friends to arrive. The fact that it was a complex multi-exposure later tweaked in the darkroom makes it all the more photographically impressive. Shulman’s creative take on capturing the groundbreaking house remains one of the most acclaimed images that encapsulates the spirit of postwar America while the clarity of his architectural photography overall meant that a new independent art form was created.