A new three-volume collection documents the architectural images of American photographer, Julius Shulman. The tome forms the first major publication of Shulman’s work, detailing buildings by the likes of Frank Lloyd-Wright, Pierre Koenig and Raphael Soriano.
Little wonder, perhaps, that Shulman – who died in 2009 at the age of 98 – spent his working life documenting the formal specifics of Southern California’s modernist buildings – buildings which themselves helped to define his own particular photographic practice.
His lens is concerned with the connectivity of humanity and nature via constructions of spectacular geometric discipline. It’s a fixation with an artistic identity influenced heavily by the minimalist practices imported from Europe in the first half of the 20th Century, and one which, to this day, draws attention to the processes and materials used in creating the buildings, from girder to gutter.
But Shulman’s is a highly particular oeuvre, even within modernism. Born in NYC, but raised on a farm in Connecticut, his eventual move to Los Angeles developed in him a point of view that posited buildings as highly influenced – defined, even – by their natural surroundings. ... Though the clarity of Shulman’s vision helped to elevate architectural photography into its own art form, he became disillusioned as modernism declined and morphed into postmodernism in the late 60s and early 70s.
But maybe that is what backs up Shulman’s status as an essential progenitor of architectural photography – a stylistic defiance. His real skill was in understanding buildings in the way that they had existed in the architect’s head – before the drawing board. As Richard Neutra put it, the photos ‘revealed the essence of my design’ – it’s a creative legacy of reverie.