Western History & Genealogy Blog

Julius Shulman | 1910-2009

Julius Shulman, the photographer responsible for iconic images of modernism in California, the West, and the world, died Wednesday at the age of 98.

Examinations of Shulman's life and work have begun to appear, including a lengthy assessment in the Los Angeles Times, with video and a slideshow of his photographs, and an appreciation by Christopher Hawthorne, the paper's architecture critic, and Hawthorne's recollection of his relationship with the photographer.

Shulman had celebrated his 98th birthday last October. Shulman denied he was an artist: “God forbid, no. I like to say I’m a communicator.” Nevertheless, Shulman’s images are as much works of art as the modernist homes and buildings he documented since the 1930s. Over the subsequent seven decades, Julius Shulman became synonymous with the architecture of mid-twentieth-century California and the West.

Many of Shulman’s images are immediately familiar, such as the poolside photograph of Richard Neutra’s Kaufmann House in Palm Springs, California (sold in 2009 for $16.84 million, the highest price paid for an American modernist home), or the image of Pierre Koenig’s Los Angeles Case Study House No. 22 at night.

While Shulman claimed to have retired in 1998, he continued his work, making several appearances in 2008 at southern California bookstores to sign new works on his life and career. And the Annenberg Space for Photography, a new 10,000 square foot gallery of photography in Century City, California, opened in 2009 with an inaugural show of eight Los Angeles photographers, including Julius Shulman.

The DPL Western History & Genealogy Department’s collections include a number of works that document Shulman’s life and career, and several have just been added to our collection. Other works on Shulman, or that feature his photographs, are available in DPL’s circulating collection for checkout.

The most important of these recent works is the three-volume Modernism Rediscovered (Köln; Los Angeles: Taschen, 2007), Shulman’s record of the modernist movement in California, the West, and the wider world from the late 1930s through the early 1980s. Together the volumes weigh more than 25 pounds, and sit on the oversize shelves in our Gates Reading Room. Still more recent is Julius Shulman: Palm Springs (New York: Palm Springs: Rizzoli; Palm Springs Art Museum, 2008), a volume devoted to Shulman’s photographs of buildings and homes in the California desert modernist haven. Palm Springs includes images of the work of Richard Neutra, A. Quincy Jones, Albert Frey and others. Malibu: A Century of Living by the Sea (New York: H.N. Abrams, 2005), a collaboration between Shulman and Juergen Nogai, presents the domestic architecture of seaside southern California.

Shulman presents his own account of his work in Architecture and Its Photography (Köln; New York: Taschen, c1998), drawing from his personal archive of more than a quarter-million photographs. In 2005, Shulman donated his photographs to the Getty Museum in Los Angeles. Joseph Rosa presents his own account of Shulman’s life and significance in A Constructed View: The Architectural Photography of Julius Shulman (New York: Rizzoli, 1994). Finally, Susan Freudenheim’s New York Times article is a lively introduction to the man, his work, and the aesthetic of California modern.

[Much of the above text previously appeared, in slightly different form, in the October 2008 Western History & Genealogy Department Newsletter.]