Masterful in front of an audience, this prodigious talent’s legacy will continue
to draw crowds
By Christopher James Alexander
-Curator of Architecture and Design
Getty Research Institute, Los Angeles
Visitors to Julius Shulman Photography exhibitions tend to be a bit boisterous. They exclaim, sigh, and holler at their friends across the room. They point and excitedly lean into the framed images, inadvertently leaving smeared fingerprints and nose smudges on the protective glass. It’s not their fault. They can’t help themselves. Exploring Shulman’s captivating photos is an interactive experience.
For a curator like me, this lively gallery atmosphere is exhilarating. When the two Shulman exhibitions that Wim de Wit and I curated and organized with our Getty colleagues were on view, I enjoyed some of the most entertaining and enlightening anecdotes, while unabashedly eavesdropping on visitors in the gallery. People would linger in front of Shulman’s historic photographs and marvel at the inventive architecture, elegant fashions, sleek automobiles and bygone neighborhood vistas framed by his lens. Parents asked their young children how they thought it would feel to live in a transparent, steel and glass home or sleep perched atop the city in John Lautner’s futuristic Chemosphere. Groups of women reflected on blissful afternoons spent shopping at the Bullock’s Wilshire department store, in order to find the perfect dress for a special occasion. Couples happily reminisced about seeing Lawrence of Arabia at S. Charles Lee’s spectacular Academy Theater. Through his precise combination of intuitive timing, distinctive camera angles, and alluring, staged narratives, Shulman not only created some of the most famous photographs in architectural history; he developed compelling images that continue to viscerally connect with people on complex levels.