Thursday, July 16, 2009

A pause for Julius Shulman

If you have never heard of Julius Shulman, you have likely seen at least one of his photographs in your lifetime. His most famous shot features one of the Case Study Houses hanging off the edge of a cliff in Los Angeles. The house is by Pierre Koenig and it is immortalized in Shulman's black and white photograph where a pair of ladies are sitting on the sofa seemingly suspended over the lights of the city below. The amazing thing is that the shot never really happened like that. Shulman made the shot from two different shots: one of the city below and one of the house. In the days before Photoshop, you had to see the shot you wanted in your head and then capture what you needed to make it.

Shulman was famous for the capture. He earned the nickname 'One Shot Shulman', often getting what he needed in only one take. I was reading a short obituary on the LA Times web site and they had about 20 pictures or so spanning Shulman's career. I was taken by one picture in particular of Shulman setting up a shot on the front lawn of a ranch house. He is standing there positioning his camera at the proper angle for his shot and he's got all of these plants set up around his lens. There are at least three potted plants and another huge branch strapped to a wooden bracket. The thing that struck me was that Shulman was creating an artificial view to better frame the building. Having seen literally hundreds of his photographs, it never struck me that what I was looking at was constructed. It always seemed organic. I guess that was what Shulman excelled at. He saw the shot and did what he needed to do to create it.

It is likely that in a few news cycles no one will be talking about Julius Shulman. Fortunately, he has left us with a remarkable portfolio of work to reflect upon for years to come. What will always stay with me is the purity of how he saw the world through Architecture. His photos made every place look special or important. Trust me, it's not easy to do. As we look at our generic landscapes of big box stores and chain restaurants, I wonder whether or not we have lost that lens that makes places special. I certainly hope not.

Thank you Mr. Shulman for memorializing so many great places and memories. If a picture is worth a thousand words, then you are certainly one of the most prolific authors in history.

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