Meeting Julius Shulman

Legendary, legend-making….

[ Julius Shulman revisiting the Kaufmann House in Palm Springs ]

For my fourth “Design Under the Influence” post on La Dolce Vita today, I talk about how Derek Lam was inspired by Neutra’s Kaufmann House in Palm Springs when designing his Spring 2012 collection. It’s a fun look at fashion meets architecture — but perhaps more so, fashion meets architecture photography, as Lam was clearly influenced by Slim Aarons’ “Poolside Gossip” and “Kaufmann House, 1970.” (Go check it out to see what I mean!)

Looking at the iconic house again, I was reminded of one lucky afternoon in 2007 when I got to visit legendary architecture photographer Julius Shulman at his home in the Hollywood Hills. He was 96 at the time, but still as sharp as ever, and quite a spitfire. He brought up a very interesting question that I still ponder:

What’s more famous, Neutra’s architecture, or Shulman’s photograph of the architecture?

I remember Shulman seemed to say with both pride and a hint of bittersweetness in his voice that he was still making a living off of work by mid-century architects like Neutra and Lautner who had all passed away decades before. But in a symbiotic kind of way, these same architects became famous because of his photography. At first I chuckled at the thought, and then realized, he is totally right! Would we even know some of these structures if it wasn’t for his beautiful photography?

OK so now for something kind of fun he told us about two of his most famous shots…

Richard Neutra’s Kaufmann House, photographed by Julius Shulman ]

#1: In the Kaufmann House photo above, he said the only reason there was a woman laying poolside was to cover up the light in the pool that was ruining the shot.

Koenig’s Case Study House #22, photographed by Julius Shulman ]

#2: And in his most famous photograph above, Shulman mentioned his first test shots from this angle did not have any life to them. He thought it was kind of dull, so he had the ladies sit there but didn’t tell them he was photographing them.

Now let’s take a quick look at a few of Shulman’s other photographs, and appreciate the fact that this very talented man chronicled a period of architecture that revolutionized the home for the modern family:

Neutra’s Chuey House, photographed by Julius Shulman ]

Laszlo Residence, photographed by Julius Shulman ]

Lautner’s Chemosphere, photographed by Julius Shulman ]

[ Koenig’s Case Study House #21, photographed by Julius Shulman ]

[ Spencer Residence, photographed by Julius Shulman ]

[ Leeds Residence, photographed by Julius Shulman ]

I feel so very fortunate to have had the opportunity to spend the afternoon with him. He gave us a tour of his house and grounds, and it was obvious how much he really loved his home (designed by architect Raphael Soriano). And going into his office and studio was like stepping back in time. He was quite proud that the Getty was archiving his entire life’s work, and that a three-volume collaboration with Taschen from his personal collection, “Modernism Rediscovered” was about to be released.

That book is now a family heirloom, you better believe it!

Erika Brechtel

Erika Brechtel

Creative Director

Desiring an online space to explore well-rounded, inspired content in all topics she loves most, Erika created 'The E List' (formerly the Small Shop blog) in 2010. When not enjoying an “occasional" glass of wine and wanderlusting for even warmer climates, Erika can be found sharing laughs with friends and family, and trying her very best to keep up with her 6-year old daughter (yet failing miserably).

  1. WOW. first off, how cute is he with his americana suspenders?

    And the pictures… breathtaking. I loved hearing the back stories.

    How lucky for you to have the experience, and for us to learn a little.

  2. You are a very lucky lady – I am so jealous! I am obsessed with the case study house – his photographs are so iconic as well. Love this post!!!!!!
    -e (modern24seven)

  3. You are so right! He revolutioned the way mid-century architecture was portrayed. It must have been a lifetime experience sharing and evening with him! That book of yours is priceless! XoXo

  4. How amazing!! First of all, his pictures are so amazing. I kind of want this book now! And it’s so special that you got to hear from the artist himself about the behind the scenes aspects. I honestly couldn’t pick a favorite out of these photos. I could ask questions about them all day!

  5. Lucky!! First of all, I never had a grandpa growing up and he is the picture perfect one I always wanted. How incredible that you got to spend time with him, pick his brain, and enjoy his wisdom for a lifetime. Those photos are so iconic, I can’t pick a favorite. Oh, I can’t wait to meet you in person one day, hopefully soon!!

  6. Went on a self-guided Modernism Home Tour in Palm Springs and saw some of these gorgeous homes first hand including Trina Turk’s Ship in the Desert home!

  7. WOW! so great so cool SO JEALOUS! Can you imagine I live literally 5 miles from the iconic Glass House, and I’ve never been in…you just remotivated me to book a tour!

  8. What an awesome experience to be able to chat with him! Very jealous. He really did capture an era or at least the best of it! Thanks for sharing this story Erika.