LOS ANGELES (Reuters) - Julius Shulman took a photograph in 1960 that made millions dream of a perfect life: two women seated in a glass house seemingly suspended in mid air as the twinkling lights of Los Angeles beckon below.
Nearly 50 years after the famous photo of Case Study House #22, the man many consider the finest architectural photographer in history finds himself a cult figure for a new generation that covets the minimalist mid-century modern architecture he took around the world.
“They are discovering architecture and discovering the power of photography,” said Shulman in an interview at his Laurel Canyon home, surrounded by photos and layouts for big-format books by high-brow publishers like Taschen.
Modern style magazines like Wallpaper and Dwell have also run recent features on Shulman, and his work has been put on film in a new documentary, “Visual Acoustics: The Modernism of Julius Shulman,” narrated by Dustin Hoffman.
Shulman, who is still active, attributes his success “to being in the right place at the right time” — the place being Los Angeles at a time when modernists were putting their revolutionary urban design to residential use and constructing for many the quintessential California dream.
His first big break came from one of the most famous Los Angeles modernist architects, Richard Neutra, in 1936.
“Neutra saw my photographs I had taken of his house. I took six photographs. The result was he had never seen such photographs as I had taken,” Shulman said.
“Up until then, I was just playing with my camera,” he added.
The acclaimed photographs of Neutra’s work were followed by a flood of commissions from other giants, most notably Frank Lloyd Wright. Schulman spent 12 days photographing Wright’s winter home and school Taliesen West in Arizona, where many of the Los Angeles architects spent time.
Shulman retired in the 1970s, disgusted by the turn architecture took with post-modernism.
The tens of thousands of photographs Shulman took in the 1950s and ‘60s project the optimism the modernists had that they could enhance life through good design.
“The photos are very cinematic in nature and I wanted to see those on the big screen and I wanted people to understand the spirit behind the photography and architecture,” said Eric Bricker, the filmmaker of the new documentary.
Bricker said that Shulman’s talent is “all intuition.”
“He has an incredible sense of composition and is a master of light,” Bricker said.
Indeed, 70 years after his first commissions, Shulman, working with an assistant photographer, is capable of stunning compositions.
In the documentary, he is seen photographing the Walt Disney Concert Hall, designed by his friend Frank Gehry, known for his expressionist postmodern architecture, who got his first commissions through Shulman.
“I control what I call the visual acoustics,” Shulman said as he composed the photo of the avant-garde interior of Gehry’s concert hall.