Visual Acoustics- The Modernism of Julius Shulman
September 23, 2014
In the informative video, "Visual Acoustics", the architectural photography of Julius Shulman is given a context within the history of mid-20th century modernism architecture. I am not exaggerating to say that the Shulman photography of Southern California modernism had a profound influence in design and architecture. The photographs of Shulman became the "signature images of California architecture." They were published in "Arts and Architecture Magazine" but the images also traveled to consumer magazines like House and Garden where the general public learned about modern architecture.
In the film, designer Tom Ford summarizes this optimistic post-war period when he says, "Architects believed they could change the world; life could be enhanced through good design."
The photographs were not just about capturing domestic architecture. The photographs of Julius Shulman captured a modern lifestyle.
The film also offers a primer on the network of relationships between architects. These are the famous architects who developed the vocabulary of 20th century architecture beginning early in the 20th century. From Frank Lloyd Wright, and the Bauhaus, plus the immigration of architects to the United States before WWII. The interconnections through various apprenticeships and mentorships is just stunning.
Below is the Visual Acoustics Trailer:
This film is available through Netflix, and worth getting, but it is not your typical Hollywood entertainment. When my husband and I started to watch it on Saturday night, we both fell asleep. The next night we started over with a different mindset -- when we weren't exhausted. Subsequently, I watched it twice more trying to absorb every word and image.
For every artist and maker reading this post, the film also demonstrates the importance of quality photographic images in developing a career, or multiple careers. Shulman's photographs of architecture pushed architects into the stratosphere of notoriety and fame. The architects would insist that Shulman take the photos because he consistently brought out aspects and connections that even the architects were amazed to realize. Many images by Julius Shulman are among the most famous photos of mid-century architecture.
I knew some of the photos of Julius Shulman but didn't recognize his name until after watching the film. Now the pieces of the puzzle come together. This also ties into the post Designing Home: Jews and Mid-Century Modernism, an exhibition at the Contemporary Jewish Museum which connects the furniture and domestic design to the domestic architecture. If you watch this film before going to the show, you will appreciation the exhibition so much more.
One more important point to all artists and makers:
In the film you will see that Julius Shulman kept every negative, every photo he ever took in his own archive that was well organized. He understood that every image had value. The film also shows that Shulman's photography has been used to restore buildings as well as document the history of 20th century architecture. He took his work seriously. His photo archive is now housed at the Getty.
It is a really small world.
Julius Shulman's L.A. Stories (Modern Architecture in Los Angeles) from the Getty Research Institute
In the video below, the explanation for many of his most famous shots and approach to photography is a lot clearer than in the film Visual Acoustics.
Julius Shulman: Modernism Rediscovered
This is the book that Julius Shulman is reviewing at the Taschen offices during the film Visual Acoustics.
Eichler: Modernism Rebuilds the American Dream