Observing an L.A. photographer

Julius Shulman
The daughter of legendary architectural photographer Julius Shulman remembers that, as a child growing up in Los Angeles, her father wasn't particularly eager to show her the city's landmarks. Judy McKee says, in fact, that she first remembers seeing Angels Flight with her neighbors. But in discussing her father's affection for Los Angeles, McKee leaves no doubt. Julius Shulman loves the varied neighborhoods, landscape and innovative architecture of L.A.

He is, she says, just as passionate about his dislike of over-commercialization and endless tract developments.

The just opened exhibit "Julius Shulman's Los Angeles" at the Los Angeles Public Library's Getty Gallery is a love letter (albeit a complex one) from Shulman to his city. The show is a survey of the city's development. Included are some of Shulman's most iconic images such as "Case Study House #22" (1960) and "Chemosphere" (1960). Viewers unfamiliar with Shulman's work may be surprised at the wide-ranging scope of his photographic wanderings. He takes us to Wilshire Boulevard, the Watts Towers, LAX, Hollywood Reservoir, and yes, even to Angels Flight. There are images of the San Fernando Valley and Baldwin Hills.

He expresses his disdain for cookie-cutter tract housing in a 1960 photograph of a neighborhood With oil fields in the distance. His dismay at the destruction of private homes in favor of office buildings downtown is evident in "The Saltbox and the Castle, the Last Remaining Houses on Bunker Hill" (1967), shown here.

Although Shulman fulfilled his duty to the clients who retained his eye, I was struck in this show by how he also communicated his personal feelings about the effect architecture has on a city and, ultimately, on the people who reside there.

If Los Angeles had a list of municipal treasures, Shulman would certainly be on it. As a resident since 1920, he has been a keen observer and documentarian of the city's architectural history and growth. His images of California Modernist architecture, made in the 1950's and 1960's, define that period as much as the buildings themselves do. When Shulman began his career as a professional photographer in 1936 (through a now-famous chance encounter with architect Richard Neutra) he had no way of knowing what kind of impact his images would ultimately have. This exhibit at the Central Library displays the passion Shulman feels for Los Angeles and the persistence of his razor-sharp vision in expressing it.

On Nov. 7 at 7 pm in the library's Mark Taper Auditorium, Shulman will discuss his life and the city with the Getty Institute's Wim de Wit, co-curator of the exhibition. It's part of the Aloud series. "Julius Shulman's Los Angeles" can be viewed at the LAPL Getty Gallery until January 20.

Previously in this series

Photo: Used with permission. Julius Shulman Photography Archive, Research Library at the Getty Research Institute.

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