Photographer Julius Shulman, who turned photos of Modernist buildings into works of art, has died, colleagues said Thursday. He was 98.
Shulman died Wednesday night at his home in the Hollywood Hills and had been in declining health, said gallery owner Craig Krull, who represented him.
"He, in my opinion and the opinions of many, is the most important architectural photographer in history. He elevated what you might consider a commercial genre to a fine art," Krull said.
The Getty Center bought Shulman's archive of 260,000 photos in 1995. Shulman then teamed up with collaborator Juergen Nogai and worked into his 90s to build another library of photos.
Shulman's pictures at one time sold for less than $50 each, but in later years would bring between $2,000 and $20,000.
His most famous work was a black-and-white photo taken of a glass and steel frame home built by architect Pierre Koenig in the Hollywood Hills above Laurel Canyon Boulevard as the sun was setting on May 9, 1960. It was No. 22 in John Entenza's Arts & Architecture magazine's Case Study housing program.
The picture from outside the cantilevered house was shot through its glass walls toward a sea of sparkling city lights below. Two women seem to be chatting in the living room, and the horizontal pattern of the ceiling above them extends outside to the house's overhang. It was a lifestyle statement that made Shulman's career.
One-shot Shulman took two shots
It was also a last-minute job for the photographer known as one-shot Shulman because he never used a light meter and seldom had to take more than one shot.
For No. 22, though, he took two photos at once — one of the view below with a 7.5-minute time exposure and a 4-by-5 camera, and the other of the house, with a flash. Critics hailed it as a photo that was both time specific and timeless.
"He may not have considered himself an artist, but his work has been reviewed in all the important art magazines of the day," said Krull, who has represented Shulman for 20 years.
An exhibit of Shulman's latest work has been on display at Krull's gallery in Santa Monica since July 4 and will continue through Aug. 8.
When asked how Shulman's photos of houses differed from others, Krull said: "Modernism is characterized by an optimistic spirit, a belief that the future holds great promise and technology will improve civilization. Julius was perfectly suited to translate the tenets of optimism."
Over the past 20 years, Krull said he learned a lot about architecture from Shulman.
"But he would engage in a conversation about any subject," he said. "He always had a spark in his eye and vitality. He was somewhat of a naturalist, that was one of the reasons for his longevity. He was a nature boy, did a lot of hiking, a lot of skiing."
Took only one photography class
Shulman was born in October of 1910 in Brooklyn, New York, the son of Russian Jewish immigrants. His family soon moved to a farm in Connecticut. Shulman said that's where he learned about lights and shadows and developed a love of nature.
When Shulman was 10, his family moved to Los Angeles and opened a dry goods store. His father died of tuberculosis in 1923, leaving his mother with five children and the business.
Shulman attended Roosevelt High School, where he took his lone photography class. He spent the next several years soul searching and earning his rent money by taking photos with an Eastman box camera. One picture of a bridge won first place in a national magazine contest.
It was a casual meeting with architect Richard Neutra in 1936 that launched his career.
Over the years, other clients included Koenig, Frank Lloyd Wright, Rudolf M. Schindler, Gregory Ain, Charles Eames, Raphael S. Soriano, John Lautner, Eero Saarinen, Albert Frey and Harwell Harris.
Shulman is survived by a daughter and a grandson.