PRINT May 2001

Julius Shulman

I HAD THE GOOD FORTUNE OF BECOMING acquainted with Rudolph Schindler not long after meeting the first architect in my life, Richard Neutra. When I photographed Neutra’s newly completed Kun residence in March 1936, it was the first modern house I had ever seen. Then, toward the end of 1936, I was invited to Kings Road to meet Schindler, who had just completed arrangements for a new project. Out of that meeting ensued a body of architectural photography.

I recall Schindler’s comments on reviewing one of my first assignments: “Look at this interior scene. It is equally illuminated on all sides. That is not natural.” He pointed out that “whether from natural or artificial sources, no two walls receive equal lighting.” These comments became deeply embedded in my subsequent practice. Lighting is central to the photography of architecture, and Schindler was the only one to remark on what would in fact become a “doctrine” in my work.

Of course, Schindler was applying the same attention to details in looking at my images that he did in every project. I remember his concern for his clients’ needs; every little matter was addressed, as is evident in his still-occupied homes. Even Schindler’s lesser-known, low-budget projects are exemplary in this respect. In the Erlik residence (1950–52), he came up with a one-of-a-kind solution to the problem of lighting, opening a “normal” wall to capture the otherwise “wasted” light from the south-facing living room.

The Fitzpatrick House (1936–37), designed for a land developer in the Hollywood Hills—who chose the architect because he wanted the model home on his property to be controversial, even “crazy”!—offers another example of Schindler’s flexibility and versatility. In this instance, the influence of the International Style could still be felt, as is clear from the structure’s western exposures. One of the earliest occupants was comedian Martha Raye, who was offended by the walls of glass. Plastering the most disburbing area “solved” her problem, much to the dismay of Schindler devotees. (A subsequent owner restored the glass wall but, alas, covered it with heavy textured drapery.)

Clients were drawn to Schindler for many reasons, not least of which was his Viennese charm. He enjoyed a particularly close rapport with female clients and there was often more than an undercurrent of intimacy when it came to the design process. (Naturally, daily visits by the architect to the site were a welcome necessity.) The manner in which he became involved with clients had no small effect on his work. The long-demolished Harris House (1942–44), built for Rose L. Harris, a writer for whom he felt a special affinity, was erected on the most unforgiving site imaginable, a tiny tract of rocky earth purchased by his favored client for $300. Schindler bulldozed the rock to create a flat platform, on top of which he set what is, to my mind, among his most imaginative structures. Affection, it might be said, was the mother of invention where Schindler was concerned. I was once even asked to deliver a lecture on Schindler’s love life and how it fostered an atmosphere that contributed to the perfection of his designs!

Schindler’s work has finally earned the respect it deserves. Although his creations did not immediately assure him a place among the “greats,” even his earliest designs now greatly impress the world of architecture. My own photography would not have been possible without his influence and the objective evaluation he offered of my work—a reflection of his skillful understanding of cause and effect, so evident in the diversity, and integrity, of his designs.

Julius Shulman’s name is synonymous with design in this century. He began his career as an architectural photographer in 1936, recording the achievements of designers such as Charles and Ray Eames, Frank Lloyd Wright, R.M. Schindler, and above all, Richard Neutra. Recipient of the International Center of Photography’s Lifetime Achievement Award, Shulman is the subject of several books on his life and work.