Case Study house #22 by Pierre Koenig, photographed by Julius Shulman

This is a late notice, but anyone in the Boston/Cambridge area with an interest in architecture, modernism, Los Angeles, photography, creativity and elegant filmmaking, you have until Thursday night to view the documentary Visual Acoustics at the Kendall Theater.

In the way of background, here is the description of the film from the Visual Acoustics site:

Narrated by Dustin Hoffman, VISUAL ACOUSTICS celebrates the life and career of Julius Shulman, the world’s greatest architectural photographer, whose images brought modern architecture to the American mainstream. Shulman, who passed away this year, captured the work of nearly every modern and progressive architect since the 1930s including Frank Lloyd Wright, Richard Neutra, John Lautner and Frank Gehry. His images epitomized the singular beauty of Southern California’s modernist movement and brought its iconic structures to the attention of the general public. This unique film is both a testament to the evolution of modern architecture and a joyful portrait of the magnetic, whip-smart gentleman who chronicled it with his unforgettable images.

Shulman’s eye is unerring. In that sense he reminds me of Herb Vogel (my paen to Herb can be read here). Both of them developed a unique and penetrating way of seeing that set them apart from everyone else looking at the same thing, be it a building or a piece of art. Both of them were essentially self taught, creating their expertise over time using their own experiences to fine tune their gift.

But there is one big difference between Herb Vogel and Julius Shulman: Herb never talks, and Shulman never stops. With opinions about everything that are freely shared, Shulman is a survellience camera with a running soundtrack. At one point in the film Shulman’s only daughter Judy tactfully describes her father as a “self-absorbed man.” He was not alone. Julius spent most of his professional life working with other self-absorbed geniuses like Richard Neutra, John Lautner and Rudolph Schindler.

But the footage of Shulman creating his photographs (later in life he worked with an assistant) is so fascinating. I could watch those segments over and over again, the detailed understanding of how light plays on the inside and outside of a structure, how the angle and depth of field is so critical, how he finds the perfect vantage point to make these legendary mid-century structures look even better than they ever did in real life. His daughter says he hauled his furniture around with him to every shoot, always eager to make a home look lived in rather than captured in its supremacist, stripped, minimalist form.

Thanks to my film buff friend Teresa for the heads up on this. A one week run just isn’t enough.


Julius Shulman photographing Case Study house #22 by Pierre Koenig

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