Julius Shulman, RIP

Julius Shulman, giant of 20th century architectural photography, has died aged 98.

The photographer’s work became synonymous with the laid-back glamour of the West Coast style, summing up the luxurious minimalism of mid-century Modernism. He completed more than 8000 architectural commissions in his 60-year career, including photographing key buildings for leading American-based architects of the 20th Century, including Frank Lloyd Wright, Mies Van de Rohe, Pierre Koenig, Richard Neutra and Oscar Niemeyer.

Perhaps his most enduring photographs, shot free-of-charge, are of the Case Study House Program (1945-62), which aimed to demonstrate the principles of Modernism and their sustainability for low cost housing. And if one photograph has become his signature image, it is Pierre Koenig's Case Study house #22, 1960 (also known as the Stahl Residence), which is said to be the world's most published architectural image. Featuring only a detail from the building, with two women chatting in a corner, seated overlooking downtown LA in dramatic backdrop, it is a perfect example of his combination of instinct and preparation.
He had asked two friends of his assistant to be at hand, if needed, to make the house appear inhabited. 'At one point in the early evening I was setting up inside,’ he told BJP’s Simon Bainbridge in an interview published in December 2007. ‘I walked outside, and the two girls just happened to be sitting in that corner of the house. I brought my camera outside and immediately set up the composition.'
He opened up the camera lens for several minutes - judging the exposure without a light meter - to let in the scene below. 'At a certain moment I called to the girls. "Sit up" and then to my assistant, "Turn on the ceiling lights"' - firing the flashbulbs mounted behind his camera and capturing the whole scene in one shot.'
Benedict Taschen, the publisher of many of his recent books, dubbed him 'One Shot Schulman' for this uncanny ability to judge the light and composition perfectly and get his shot first time. 'The secret to the success of my photography is to always create a proper balance of light,' he wrote the photographer in the introduction to his classic 1962 textbook, Photographing Architecture and Interiors. 'Put your camera down. Don't act like a photographer; instead, act like a human being reviewing a piece of sculpture and understand where you would like the light to be for your exposure.'

Shulman, who had been ill for some time, died at home in Los Angeles on 15 July.

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