Julius Shulman, whose compelling photographs of iconic Southern California residences defined an aesthetic that still seems contemporary, died on July 15 at the age of 98. "He knew how to make architect's photographs," says Wim de Wit, head of the Department of Architecture and Design at the Getty Research Institute, "but he also took images he could sell to the book and magazine publishers that he knew." This business sense helped promote him while widely disseminating his clients' work and the Southern California lifestyle.
Architects Richard Neutra, John Lautner, and Pierre Koenig were among the best known subjects for his images. Shulman also documented the seminal Case Study houses—a project he did without compensation from the designers.
De Wit knew Shulman well and has worked with the archive of 260,000 prints, negatives, and transparencies—Shulman's total output between 1936 and 1996—since it was donated to the Getty in 2005. "He used very particular angles, including the ceiling in the space," says de Wit. "There's always light from the next space that gives you a sense of the entire layout."
A retrospective curated by de Wit and Christopher J. Alexander, "Julius Shulman, Modernity and the Metropolis," marked the photographer's 95th birthday at the Getty. It featured iconic images and traveled to the Art Institute of Chicago and Washington, D.C.'s National Building Museum. It was followed by "Julius Shulman's Los Angeles," which will open in Guadalajara, Mexico, later this year. The more recent exhibit looks at Shulman's photographs of L.A. locales beyond his architectural jobs, including construction sites and dilapidated structures alike. "It shows his love affair with the city," says de Wit.
Schulman generally worked alone, in contrast to larger organizations established by his peers—Bill and Ken Hedrich of Hedrich Blessing and Ezra Stoller of Esto. This triumvirate established the profession of architectural photography. Shulman's passing marks the end of that generation's work.