Julius Shulman received his first Eastman Kodak Brownie as a gift while in high school. Brownie in hand, he proceeded to prodigiously photograph the bridges, streets and buildings of Los Angeles, as well as the local mountains he loved to hike, recalls Judy McKee, the daughter of the iconic photographer, who died two years ago at age 98.
"My dad never missed an opportunity to take a photograph. We'd be driving along and he'd suddenly see something: 'Oh, look at that!' Then he'd stop the car, grab his camera, sometimes even climb up on the hood. He never tired of photographing Los Angeles. I use to call him the 'Thomas Guide' because he knew every single street."
FOR THE RECORD:
Shulman archive: An April 23 Home section article about the book "Julius Shulman Los Angeles: The Birth of a Modern Metropolis" misstated where the photographer's archive is housed. The Julius Shulman Photography Archive is part of the Getty Research Institute, not the Getty Museum. —
Shulman's crisp images of mid-20th century modern homes by Richard Neutra, Charles Eames, Rudolf Schindler and others have traveled the world in newspapers, magazines and books and are credited with furthering the ever popular Midcentury Modern movement. Pierre Koenig's Case Study House No.22 — a glass-enclosed home that cantilevers over a night-lit Los Angeles — "is the most often reproduced architectural photo in the world," says Craig Krull, whose eponymous gallery has represented the photographer's work for the last two decades. "He created a story with every picture. ... They always had a social context. His work encapsulated the optimism of Modernism and the California promise of the American dream."
But there is a whole body of Shulman's photographs that have been largely ignored — until now. A new book by Sam Lubell, West Coast editor of the Architect's Newspaper, and Douglas Woods, "Julius Shulman Los Angeles: The Birth of a Modern Metropolis," changes all that, presenting 207 images (140 of which had never before been published) on Shulman's greatest passion — Los Angeles.
The photographer's acute gaze captured an eclectic array of images, from the pretty girls at Lucy's lingerie shop (1948) to an early view of Los Angeles City Hall (1935), as well as new factories and their workers, Googie-style restaurants and drive-in movie theaters, supermarkets, streetscapes and schools. His vistas of unspoiled outlying areas — cows in pastures, farm laborers in fields and girls riding horses, sites of the new suburbs-to-come — document a now-vanished past.
Lubell and Woods met most Wednesdays for 18 months at the Getty, culling through thousands of the 260,000 vintage and modern prints, negatives and transparencies in the Julius Shulman Photography Archive, acquired by the museum in 2004.
"We wanted to do something personal and unique from the other books about him," says Woods. "People are often fixated on a small portion of his work that focuses on architecture," adds Lubell, "but his photographs were so diversified and rich. We wanted to give people a broader glimpse of his career and insight into the man." To that end, the nostalgic photographs recalling Los Angeles of the late '30s through the '60s showcase the emerging modern metropolis — and Shulman's artistry — at their optimistic best.