While Julius Shulman has never lived in Silver Lake, his impact upon our community is without measure. As the most important photographer of modernist architecture of our time, his photographic images have helped shape the image and perception of the Southern California lifestyle more than any other. Born in Brooklyn, NY on October 10, 1910, Julius spent the early years of his youth on a Connecticut farm where he developed an appreciation for the outdoors and the beauty of nature. When he was ten, he moved with his family to Los Angeles where his father planned to start a business. In high school, he took an elective class in photography (for which he received an A; his only formal training), and after spending five years at UCLA, he moved to Berkeley where he was invited to share an apartment with a friend. To pay for his room and board, he set up a darkroom in their apartment, taking photos of the old buildings around the University and selling 8×10 prints at the campus bookstore. ”Rent was only $25 a month, which we split; I could sell the pictures for $2.50 making a nice profit.” After seven years of college, he still had no idea what he wanted to do with his life.
Within two weeks of returning home to Los Angeles in 1936, his sister Shirley Baer introduced him to a friend who worked for Silver Lake-based Modernist Architect Richard Neutra. “I was invited along to visit the house that Richard Neutra was working on at the time, the Kun House in the Hollywood Hills. I took six snapshots of the house with my camera, and had them sent to Neutra as a gift. Mr. Neutra liked them so much and wanted to meet me, which we did on March 5, 1936, a day that would change my life forever.” On that fateful day, Mr. Neutra also introduced Julius to Raphael Soriano, who was building his first house on Dillon Street in Silver Lake (the Lipetz House, which would establish Soriano as a major player in the Modernist movement, garnering the Prix de Rome Prize at the Paris Exhibition in 1936. Soriano would later build Julius Shulman’s residence in the Hollywood Hills). In quick succession, Neutra enlisted Julius for additional projects and introduced him to his many friends in the architectural community. The list of architects who followed include Gregory Ain, J.R. Davidson, Pierre Koenig, Rudolph Schindler, Raphael Soriano and Frank Lloyd Wright, amongst others. Shulman’s images benefited both architect and photographer: the images and the buildings became well-known world-wide through numerous publications.
Through the years, Julius Shulman’s photographs continue to define the beauty and functionality of modern architecture and the glamour of the California Dream. Now, seven decades later, while officially “retired”, Julius Shulman at 95 is as busy as ever. He keeps a full schedule of lecturing and teaching and of course, creating the beautiful images upon which his reputation has been built. In 2005, the Getty Museum acquired his archives, consisting of over 260,000 color and black-and- white negatives, prints and transparencies that date back to the beginning of his distinguished career. The Getty Center honored Julius Shulman’s 95th birthday with a celebration on October 14, 2005. The event also kicked off the Getty Research Institute’s exhibition of the Shulman Collection entitled, “Modernity and the Metropolis”, which ran from October 11, 2005-January 22, 2006. The exhibit is now at the National Building Museum and then will move to Chicago. In 2005, the Julius Shulman Institute was established at Woodbury University. Now, Mr. Shulman, a long time friend and advocate of Woodbury, is sharing his time with high school and college students, introducing them to creative fields they may not otherwise explore. “The Julius
Shulman Institute will allow future generations to know about the contributions Dr. Shulman has made to the history, practice and theory of contemporary architecture and design during his long productive professional career”, according to Dr. Kenneth R. Nielsen, President of Woodbury University. “The Institute will acquaint students with the application of photography as a basic instrument in the presentation of architecture to the public, in journals, books and lectures. We will offer seminars, tours and especially workshops to elementary, secondary and high schools in the area, as well as community organizations. Students in architecture need to know more about one of the most influential architecture photographers in the twentieth century. Julius’ contribution to society has captured and defined the image of “the good life” in post-war America. The University is all about providing opportunity, enhancing quality, supporting innovation and achieving success. Professor Shulman is helping us achieve these lasting goals by his commitment to making the Julius Shulman Institute a part of the fabric of Woodbury University. As we go into the future, we will evolve and change with the times as Professor Shulman has demonstrated in his life.”
Filmmaker Eric Bricker has created a documentary film about Julius Shulman, entitled ”Visual Acoustics” , a term Shulman invented for the “perfect interplay of light and shapes” he observed in Los Angeles’ classic Bradbury Building. Taking its title from Shulman’s own poetic observation the film will “blend Shulman’s images as well as exclusive interviews with Hollywood celebrities, major figures in the architecture and publishing worlds, and Julius Shulman himself”, according to Eric. Even never having “graduated” after auditing universities for seven years, Dr. Shulman has received three honorary doctorates from Art Center College, Cal Arts and Woodbury University! To keep abreast of Julius Shulman, visit the Woodbury University website, www.woodbury.edu. You might also enjoy visiting “Neighborhood Pictures: Julius Shulman at 95 years on this website.
Julius Shulman passed away on July 15, 2009. He was 98.