Several years ago in fact, I ventured to the home to pick up some portraits of Shulman for an L.A.-based architecture and design magazine for which I worked as an editor. Shulman ignored the newfangled practice of emailing jpegs and such, so the only way I was going to be able to publish the portraits was to pick up the prints and scan them in, the old-fashioned way. “The garden is a bit overgrown,” Shulman warned me on the phone before giving me a quick quote for my blurb on him, adding, “Put that in your little notebook.” He gave me directions and told me he’d be in his studio, adjacent to the house, for the next few hours.
At the end of the curved, slightly steep driveway, hidden among the indeed overgrown palms and bushes, I found the humble entrance, tucked beneath the low-slung roofline. Shulman greeted me at the door—a slight, friendly man with a wisp of gray hair and thick, square glasses—and invited me into his studio, filled with file cabinets brimming with slides of his incredible career’s work. He walked gingerly with a cane, wore a small Band-Aid right across his nose and flirted with me. He possessed an incredible memory for exactly what was contained in each drawer, pulling out a few slides to show me; I could not help but pause and consider how unique it was to be suddenly standing among probably the most important collection of modern architectural slides and photographs in existence, with the man who helped catapult modernism into the mainstream milieu.
Disillusioned with postmodernism, Shulman had attempted to retire in the 1980s. But he was soon back to work, and spent much of the last decade of his life collaborating with the German-born photographer Juergen Nogai, who will celebrate Shulman’s 100th by publishing, through Kehrer Verlag Julius Shulman: The Last Decade, comprised of works from their joint archive, many of which have not yet been published.
Southern California’s Woodbury University, home to the Julius Shulman Institute—which focuses on Shulman’s enduring involvement in the issues of modernism and dedicated, said Shulman, “to the potentials of brilliance” of young photographers—will host IMAGE.ARCHITECTURE.NOW, a symposium and photography exhibition on Saturday, October 9. The event, which includes a panel of contemporary architects and photographers, will be led by architect Neil Denari and historian Kazys Varnelis, and emceed by Frances Anderton, host of DnA on KCRW, who has said Shulman’s “seductive black-and-white photographs defined California mid-century modernism.” The University’s symposium and exhibition will be followed by 10-10-10, a celebration of Julius Shulman on October 10 at Union Station in downtown Los Angeles, emceed by Benedikt Taschen and including a live auction of Shulman’s photographs.
May 10-10-10 serve as a reminder to all fans of modernism that, as Shulman once remarked, “Modern architecture is not just an empty glass box. It has more to offer.”
Erika Heet has been working in publishing for more than 20 years, including years spent as a senior editor at Architectural Digest and Robb Report. She has written for Architectural Digest, Robb Report, Interiors, Bon Appétit, Sierra Magazine, and The Berkeley Fiction Review. She recently wrote the foreword to New Tropical Classics: Hawaiian Homes by Shay Zak. She lives in a Topanga cabin with her artist husband and two children.
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