Architectural photographer Julius Shulman (1910-) has spent the last fifty years compiling one of the single most comprehensive archives of mid-century architecture and design images. His start in the industry came from an impromptu series of shots taken at the construction site of Richard Neutra's Kun House in 1936. After Neutra saw the shots he began enlisting Shulman as the primary visual recorder of his projects, and the list of architects who followed his lead included Gregory Ain, J.R. Davidson, R.M. Schindler and Raphael Soriano. In this company, Shulman lent a hand to defining the visual style of the period. His photographs employed human models both for scale and to articulate the Southern California lifestyle that flourished within these modern edifices. Shulman also worked extensively shooting advertisements and magazine spreads, in addition to serving as one of the staff photographers on John Entenza's influential magazine Arts & Architecture. These magazine assignments, in particular, brought his work an international scope. Among his many honors, Shulman was awarded the AIAArchitectural Photography Medal in 1969.
Shulman was born in Brooklyn and moved with his family to a farm in Connecticut, relocating again to Los Angeles where his father was starting a business in 1920. Shulman's "formal" training in photography consists solely of a high school art elective in which he experimented with the Brownie box camera on subjects like high school track meets. After dropping out of an engineering program at UCLA, however, Shulman spent several years auditing a variety of classes and developing his photography habit. His first outside recognition came in the form of a first place award in a 1933 photography contest judged by Margaret Bourke-White. The subject of his shot was the "Sixth Street Bridge." In 1934, after moving north to Berkeley, Shulman began selling shots of buildings on the University campus that he printed and framed himself. When he went back to Los Angeles in 1936 he was primedfor his career as a professional photographer to fall into place.
An understanding of spatial relationships and the power of dramatic tonal variations within a photograph are some of the qualities that make Shulman's work such an incredible document of these buildings and pieces of furniture. Claiming that, "darkroom techniques are as much a part of the photographic process as clicking the camera shutter," Shulman used a variety of these techniques to achieve his desired effect. He often burned in sections of the sky, for instance, to give it a deeper shade than it originally had. He used infrared film to accentuate the sky against the edge of the building and to render details that would otherwise be difficult or impossible to make out. He also employed a unique sense of art direction to his shoots, placing tree branches at the edge of the frame, for example, to articulate a more dynamic space. This technique could also serve the dual purpose of covering a"problem area" of the building.
In 1950 Soriano built a house and studio for Shulman in Laurel Canyon, which has since been named a historic-cultural monument by the Cultural Heritage Board in Los Angeles.