“Julius Shulman, whose luminous photographs of homes and buildings brought fame to a number of mid-20th century Modernist architects and made him a household name in the architectural world, died Wednesday night. He was 98.
Shulman, who had been in declining health, died at his home in Los Angeles, according to gallery owner Craig Krull, who represented him.
Starting with Richard Neutra in 1936, Shulman’s roster of clients read like a who’s who of pioneering contemporary architecture: Rudolf M. Schindler, Gregory Ain, Frank Lloyd Wright, Charles Eames, Raphael S. Soriano, John Lautner, Eero Saarinen, Albert Frey, Pierre Koenig, Harwell Harris and many others. His work was contained in virtually every book published on Modernist architects.
“He has a sense of visual bravura of composition,” wrote the late Robert Sobieszek, photography curator at the Los Angeles County Museum of Art, “so that he can take a rather mundane house and make it look exciting, and take a spectacular house and make it look triply spectacular.”
Shulman had “a profound effect on the writing and teaching of architectural history and understanding architecture, especially Southern California modernism,” said Thomas Hines, UCLA professor emeritus of architecture and urban design. And Newsweek magazine’s Cathleen McGuigan wrote that some of Shulman’s photographs of modern glass houses in Palm Springs and Los Angeles “are so redolent of the era in which they were built you can practically hear the Sinatra tunes wafting in the air and the ice clinking in the cocktail glasses.”
You can view a slideshow of Julius Shulman at work along with some of his most famous images here. Shulman was a Master whose images helped define architectural modernism in Southern California and beyond. He will truly be missed.
By now most people who are interested in architecture have learned that the Swiss architect Peter Zumthor has been named the 2009 Pritzker Architecture Prize Laureate. I was psyched to hear this — I don’t know a whole lot about architecture, but I did do some research on Zumthor awhile back for a project on the Slow movement that never came to pass, and I found his buildings, his ideas, and his focus on locality to be quite compelling. From Zumthor’s book Thinking Architecture:
“I believe that architecture today needs to reflect on the tasks and possibilities which are inherently its own. Architecture is not a vehicle or a symbol for things that do not belong to its essence. In a society that celebrates the inessential, architecture can put up a resistance, counteract the waste of forms and meanings, and speak its own language. I believe that the language of architecture is not a question of a specific style. Every building is built for a specific use in a specific place and for a specific society. My buildings try to answer the questions that emerge from these simple facts as precisely and critically as they can.”
The Pritzger Prize is being amply covered elsewhere, and I won’t pretend to have fresh insight to add other than this small offshoot. While reading through the many well-deserved Zumthor accolades today, I was reminded of a photographer named Helene Binet whose work I have always admired but haven’t thought about in awhile.
Binet is a celebrated architectural photographer. She’s worked repeatedly with Zumthor and Zaha Hadid, Daniel Liebeskind, and Coop Himmelb(l)au among many many others. Interestingly most of the images of Zumthor-designed spaces on the Pritzker website that immediately drew me in were the ones that were photographed by Binet. She has a remarkable ability to capture the emotional and spiritual qualities of a given architectural space — a skill that’s particularly important when it comes to an architect like Zumthor.
Of her own work, Binet has said,
“In the end, what I do is about feeling. Certain buildings, certain architects generate a strong emotion. It is hard to explain, but, if am I lucky, I can find this feeling, these emotions, slowly and quietly in the darkroom when my pictures come to light.” (from Dream Life of Buildings: Helene Binet’s Pictures, The Guardian, April 15, 2002)
In many ways architectural photography is an “invisible” genre because we tend to look right through it, forgetting that someone other than the architect is framing our view of the building. Photographers like Binet play a vital role in communicating architectural meaning, especially to the great unwashed like myself who don’t know how to read a blueprint or schematic and who find scale models boring to look at. I might never get to see a Zumthor building in real life (and god knows could I use a trip to that spa right now), but Binet’s pictures, and those of other equally gifted photographers, make me see what all the fuss is about.
In order to understand a work of architecture, we have to be physically present in the building or space itself. Or do we? Great architectural photography makes you wonder.
For access to (way better-looking than they are on this post) high-res photographic images of Zumthor’s projects by Binet and other architectural photographers, visit this page on the Pritzker Prize website.