I don’t like posting 1,000-word write-ups because I think that’s not very blog-friendly, so over the next day or two MAN will feature several posts about photographer Julius Shulman. A small show of Shulman’s work is on view at the Getty Research Institute through Sunday. A four or five-city tour will begin later this year.
Julius Shulman’s photographs of modernist California architecture are the work of a true believer, an evangelist for modernism. In his photographs California sprawl is beautiful, convenient, and futuristic. Shulman celebrated the promise of modernism wherever it reared its head: in homes, banks, gas stations, movie theaters. That photograph on the left is of a Mobil station in Anaheim, Calif. It promises ease-of-use, style, function, and a little bit of top-down California sex appeal. Now gas stations are monuments to corporate standardization.
Shulman was not born into the modern world. In the years before and during World War I, Julius Shulman grew up on a farm in rural Connecticut. It was a classic early-20th century American family plot: The Shulmans fed themselves (and the local fox population) with a coop full of Rhode Island Red chickens, pumped water from a hand pump on the kitchen sink, made do with outdoor toilets and used Sears Roebuck catalogs for paper. They had no electricity, just kerosene lamps and a coal-fire stove for heat and cooking. When a Shulman wanted a bath, he’d set up a tub in the middle of the kitchen, boil water on the stove, and bathe.
In September, 1920, Julius’ parents decided that they wanted their 10-year old son and his two siblings to grow up not on a rural farm, but in America’s new land of promise: California. They boarded a train in New York and became part of one of the first waves of migration into the Southland. Shulman graduated from LA’s Roosevelt High School in 1928, and the next year he attended UCLA as part of the first class on the Westwood campus.