Photographer Shulman Had An Eye For The Modern Julius Shulman's images cast modern architecture in a vivid light, including his iconic "Case Study House No. 22," a nighttime portrait of a modern glass house jutting out from a cliff over the Los Angeles skyline. He died Wednesday at 98, just two weeks after his last assignment.
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Photographer Shulman Had An Eye For The Modern

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Photographer Shulman Had An Eye For The Modern

Photographer Shulman Had An Eye For The Modern

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The man who showed us what modern architecture looks like has died. Photographer Julius Shulman was 98, still working from his own modernist home here in Los Angeles, where my former colleague Alex Chadwick visited him for an interview a few years ago. And, Alex, welcome back to the radio.

ALEX CHADWICK: Hello, Madeleine Brand.

BRAND: So great to have you. Well, before we get to the man, Julius Shulman, tell me about his work, his photos.

CHADWICK: Okay, this is the photo that you know. It's a photograph he took in 1960. It's called "Case Study Number 22," a home built by the architect Pierre Koenig. And it looks kind of like a glass Kleenex box stuck into a hill. It's thrusting out over the darkened, dusky Los Angeles with the city twinkling below. And here is this elevated, cool, elegant glass structure with two young women sitting and talking in the light revealed there.

And it was just a photograph that captured the image of the home, the building itself, but also the experience of being in that building, of dreaming that Los Angeles dream on that hillside.

BRAND: And, really, the experience of modernism.

CHADWICK: And the experience of modernism. It felt modern, it felt clean and new and interesting. And, wow, that was Julius Shulman interpreting the work of great builders.

BRAND: Okay, so tell me about Julius Shulman. What kind of guy was he?

CHADWICK: I called his daughter earlier today. She said, you know, of course I'm sorry about this passing, but this man led a wonderful life - and he did. It was a working life. He wanted to be working photographer. He loved modernism. He told the L.A. Times, I'm selling architecture. I'm selling the idea of modernism. And he was. He wasn't a photojournalist, he was someone who wanted to represent the idea of modernism, represent it through photography, and he did very, very successfully.

He met this architect Richard Neutra kind of by chance back in the 1930s, very influential. He took photographs of a Neutra building. Neutra saw them, he said, that's my guy. I want him shooting everything that I do. And he did. And then the other architects said, oh yeah, he's the guy. And he taught himself to learn from that experience, to learn from these great builders, to see things through their eyes. And he applied that lesson. Look, he said, look - and he told me this when I asked about teaching young architects and photographers, people who came to him to learn.

Mr. JULIUS SHULMAN (Photographer): They all automatically bent down, pulled out their camera. And I learned to shout at them, wait a minute, what are you doing? Well, we're here to photograph. No, you're not here to photograph. You're here to look at a building and look into your own minds.

BRAND: Alex, we talked a little earlier about that one photograph that really captures Los Angeles at that particular moment.


BRAND: That modernist moment in 1960. And, really, it seems that his photos, Julius Shulman's photos, they became iconic in and of themselves. And the architecture was almost secondary.

CHADWICK: To the irritation of some of these great architects who see this guy emerging as a artist, as a photographer, and say, wait a minute, it's about my building, it's not his - anyway, look, he liked to work. He worked all through his life. His daughter told me his last assignment was only two weeks ago. This is 98 years old.

Now, when I saw him three years ago, when he was 95, he was getting around on a walker then up at his home, this modernist home up off Mullholland Drive here in Los Angeles. And it kind of irritated him. You could see he was a little irritable. But I think it was because it slowed him down and his mind was so active, he constantly was thinking about his next project and how he was going to photograph something, what he was going to do.

He didn't want to be slowed down. He wanted to be working all the time, and he was. There's something else about him. I was speaking to some people in photography last night. They said, you know, Julius, he was forthright, we'll say. He would talk to other master photographers about their work. He would say, I like that thing that you did. This thing you did, I don't like that. That's no good.

(Soundbite of laughter)

CHADWICK: It's not - and his daughter told me, he could make people cry talking about their work. But he made people more often simply sit quietly studying these images that he had taken.

BRAND: You know, Alex, we're talking about buildings that were built a long, long time ago, decades ago...


BRAND: ...but called modernism. The feeling I get here is that living here in Los Angeles, this isn't an old style of architecture by any means.

CHADWICK: No, it's dated, but it's very current. People are building today in the modernist style. They're doing it in a modernism that's contemporary to this moment. But it's got that influence, it's got that look, that mid-century line to it.

BRAND: Indoor/outdoor, lots of glass.

CHADWICK: And the people who are building and designing today to that look, they will tell you, they look at architecture through the eyes and the images of Julius Shulman.

BRAND: And you can see what those architects are looking at at our Web site. We have photographs from Julius Shulman at Alex Chadwick, thank you so much for coming in and sharing your memories of Julius Shulman. Julius Shulman, the photographer who died at the age of 98. Alex, thank you.

CHADWICK: Madeleine, thank you.

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