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Indepth Arts News:

"Altered States of America: Julius Shulman"
2000-08-09 until 2000-09-24
Photographer's Gallery
London, , UK

In a career which spans eight decades, Julius Shulman is considered one of the world's leading architectural photographers. Born in New York in 1910, Shulman's images captured the spirit of post-war Californian modernist architecture. This exhibition brings together some of Shulman's most iconic photographs of West Coast domestic architecture.

A self-taught photographer, Shulman's career began when he met the architect Richard Neutra in 1936. Neutra had been brought to Los Angeles to assist fellow Austrian architect Rudolph Schindler, who was overseeing the construction of Frank Lloyd Wright's Hollyhock House. Neutra went on to establish a reputation as one of the leading architects working in Southern California and was particularly noted for the intriguing relationships he created between buildings and landscape. Shulman documented the majority of Neutra's buildings in photographs. He captured their cool, clean geometries and at the same time, humanised their radical modernism.

Neutra belonged to a group of modernist architects drawn to work in and around Los Angeles, who believed in the social benefit of architecture: 'As an architect, my life has been governed by the goal of building environmental harmony, functional efficiency, and human enhancement into the experience of everyday living.'1John Entenza, editor of Arts and Architecture magazine, shared the same vision, and the Case Study House programme he initiated in 1945 provided an extraordinary opportunity for a generation of American and emigrč architects to pursue an unprecedented experiment in domestic architecture. Fuelled by a rising demand for affordable single-family homes - and the need to house a generation of GI's returning from Europe - in its twenty year duration some 26 progressively designed Case Study Houses were built, each intended as a model for future construction on a mass scale. Architects such as Edward Killingsworth, Charles and Ray Eames, Richard Neutra, Raphael Soriano, Craig Ellwood and Pierre Koenig proved they could build cost-effective homes without compromising the utopian principles of modernism. It was Julius Shulman who gave pictorial form to the radical architecture they created, and his perfectly composed, light-filled images parallel the sense of optimism and confidence which infused both the architecture and the historical moment in which it was created.

Craig Ellwood and Pierre Koenig used industrial materials such as steel to create structured armatures and combined this with broad expanses of glass, juxtaposed with reflective planes of water. In these geometric and modular designed houses, the boundaries between inside and outside were broken down with the use of translucent materials. Perched high in the hills, with the city of Los Angeles spread out below, these houses transformed the way the modern house looked. Shulman's images of Pierre Koenig's two Case Study Houses were to become synonymous with this project. When Norman Foster discussed the impact of Pierre Koenig's work, he is in fact describing Shulman's dramatic evening shot: 'The heroic night-time view of Pierre Koenig's Case Study House No. 22 seems so memorably to capture the whole spirit of late twentieth-century architecture. There, hovering almost weightlessly above the bright lights of Los Angeles, spread out like a carpet below, is an elegant, light, economical and transparent enclosure whose apparent simplicity belies the rigorous process of investigation that made it possible. If I had to choose one snapshot, one architectural moment, of which I would like to have been the author, this is surely it.'2

Camilla Jackson
Programme Organiser

1 Richard Neutra from William Marlin, ed. Nature Near: Late Essays of Richard Neutra
2 Norman Foster, in the foreword of Pierre Koenig, by James Steele, David Jenkins, 1998

Julius Shulman
Case Study House No. 20 (Bass House), 1958

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