Iconic architectural photography

Julius Shulman with daughter Judy McKee and Craig Krull Photo by Clark Davis, Courtesy of Craig Krull Gallery

Legendary photographer Julius Shulman to be honored at photo l.a. 2008

By Kim Devore / Staff Writer

Few photographers have captured the essence of a city like Julius Shulman. The famed architectural photographer will be honored this Thursday at the Barker Hangar in Santa Monica as part of “photo l.a. 2008,” the 17th Annual International Los Angeles Photographic Art Exposition.

In a career that spans more than seven decades, the 97-year-old lens man has snapped a wide variety of subjects and styles, but perhaps his most admired images are those of the sleek, contemporary Los Angeles of the 1950s.

With its space-age forms and exaggerated shapes, it was a revolutionary period in terms of design and style and Shulman’s photos always seemed in line with the architect’s vision.

“If you live in Los Angeles and know anything about Los Angeles, you probably know Julius Shulman,” said photo l.a. organizer Stephen Cohen. “He changed the whole nature of architectural photography. It became iconography for the whole region. We’re very pleased to be presenting him with our first lifetime achievement award.”

Among Cohen’s favorite works are Shulman’s case studies. In one commonly called “The Bachelor,” a young man in a white sports coat looks out over the city from a cantilevered glass house hanging off a local hillside. In another, the acclaimed Case Study #22, the photographer looks in on two elegantly clad women in white cocktail dresses. It is taken from the outside of an all-glass Pierre Koenig-designed home and shows the women against a dramatic backdrop of city lights.

In addition to exterior features, Shulman’s works also capture contemporary interiors of the day with their streamlined furnishings, globe chandeliers, kidney-shaped tables and other Jetson-worthy forms.

“They’re very modern, very ’50s and beautifully composed” Cohen said. “He is recognized as putting this image of Los Angeles as a cool, modernistic place out to the world.”

In framing the Southern California lifestyle, Shulman promoted designs of the day’s leading architects like R.M. Schindler, Gregory Ain and John Lautner, who is a well-known name in Malibu. In fact, Shulman has been photographing Malibu homes since the 1920s. His latest photographs of Malibu estates are included in the large coffee table book “Malibu: A Century of Living by the Sea,” in which he worked with collaborator Juergen Nogai. The works of architects such as James Moore, Frank Gehry and Richard Meier are included in the book, as well as “do-it-yourself” designs.

Shulman was born in Brooklyn, New York but settled in Los Angeles in the 1920s and began his love affair with the city. At a friend’s request he took some photos of Richard Neutra’s recently completed Kun Residence in 1936. Using a vest pocket 122mm camera, he snapped shots from various angles. Although he says he knew nothing about architecture at the time, Neutra couldn’t have been happier with the result. Shulman soon moved on to other prominent architects who became friends. Virtually overnight, his hobby became a profession. From the Hollywood Hills to the high desert, he gave Southern California a signature. Even at his advanced age, Shulman continues to take on architectural assignments and continues to delight.

“He is able to pull out the best architectural elements and explain a building without words,” C ohen said. “Other architects around the world were able to see these images and were influenced by them. For that we owe him a debt.”

photo l.a. takes place Jan. 11 and Jan. 12, noon to 8 p.m., and Jan. 13, noon to 6:00 p.m. at the Barker Hangar, 3021 Airport Ave, Santa Monica. More information can be obtained by calling 323.937.4659 or online at www.artfairsinc.com