Mid-century memories: Taschen rediscovers hidden gems in the Julius Shulman vaults

Mid-century memories: Taschen rediscovers hidden gems in the Julius Shulman vaults

Publisher Benedikt Taschen has surveyed the 260,000-strong photo archive of Julius Shulman (1920 – 2009), in order to find the hidden gems and shining moments of the architectural photographer’s illustrious career. Taschen, who enjoyed a close publishing relationship with Shulman since 1998, sensitively whittled the selection down to 1,008 pages, split into three insightful volumes entitled Modernism Rediscovered.

Volume to volume, the likes of Frank Lloyd Wright and Oscar Niemeyer feature amongst a catalogue of genre-defining talent; from Frank Gehry’s swooping structures to the swathes of white walls that characterise Le Corbusier. It’s all too easy to become immune to the power of these iconic images, having seen them stamped across magazines and in photobooks for two generations. But here, it’s the mix of previously unseen, quiet portraits and intimate family shots that make us look again, and ’rediscover’ modernism as the title asks of us. Shulman’s unique access inside the homes, where he was welcomed as an esteemed guest time after time, reflects his close friendship with many of the master modernists, allowing him to deftly and respectfully capture their work as it was intended to be seen – as a place in which to live and exist.

Although most often remembered for his commitment to photographing Californian architecture, Modernism Rediscovered represents Shulman’s work across the rest of the USA, and further afield in Hong Kong, Israel and Mexico, as Philip J. Ethington’s biographical introduction explains. But it was Shulman’s Californian childhood that primed him to have such a universal modernist’s eye. ’Growing up in Southern California, at a time when Los Angeles was far closer to nature than it is today, gave Shulman the background to understand the near seamless compatibility of interior and exterior that is a hallmark of modernist design,’ Ethington writes. ’In Shulman’s vision, the meticulous organisation of interior space, so reassuring in an often chaotic world, is balanced by the free form of an ad-hoc landscape.’

Shulman brought this ’Southern Californian lifestyle’ to a world stage, and his stylised images are imprinted on the retina of the 20th century because of it. So impressive and overarching is his work that it’s often difficult to picture the buildings he photographed without the epochal Shulman-hue over them. Organised as it is, in three detailed yet easy to manage sections interspersed with generous commentary, this beautifully presented collection is a fitting tribute to both mid-century architecture, and the man who dedicated his life to capturing it.

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