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October 20 - November 20, 2007 at Craig Krull Gallery, Santa Monica

by Diane Calder

"Griffith Observatory," 2007,
Light-Jet Print, 16" x  20".

“Glass House, Philipp Johnson,
New Canaan”, 2007, Light-Jet Print.

“KIA Center (Skidmore, Owings, Merill,
architects)”, 2007, Light-Jet Print.

“Riebe Residence (Pierre Koenig,
architect)”, 2007, Light-Jet Print.

Julius Shulman, the celebrated architectural photographer, launched his legendary reputation for being in the right place at the right time in 1936. Shulman positioned himself at the Hollywood hillside construction site of Richard Neutra’s Kun House, framed the angular modernist edifice in the lens of his Vest Pocket Kodak Camera, and set his career as a photographer in motion.

Over the years, Shulman honed his skills, enhancing photography’s descriptive function.  He artfully edited and fixed components to formulate perfectly focused, dramatically illuminated architectural compositions that brilliantly heightened the structural elements and ambience of buildings designed to glorify L A’s temperate climate and renowned quality of light.

During the post-World War II building boom, Arts and Architect magazine focused on Case Study residences in a kind of neo-Bauhaus attempt to advance good design to the growing segment of the public open to new materials and ideas. Shulman hit his mark again, realizing that re-positioning his vantage point to the exterior of Pierre Koenig’s “Case Study House #22” would allow him to capture an iconic view of Koenig’s utopian glass sided box. Suspended in space, perfectly aligned with the grid of twinkling lights that reached towards the horizon, it affirmed the fantasy that our potential for growth was limitless.

But times change and today there is little room left to sprawl. Society’s sense of confidence, prevalent during the early years of Shulman’s career, has been demolished along with many of the structures Shulman memorialized on film. But the 97-year-old continues to work enthusiastically, adapting to change, most recently in collaboration with fellow photographer Juergen Nogai.

Attention to time and its passage haunt this collection, especially when the photographers It’s not always clear who contributes what to this collaborative effort, but it’s obvious that Shulman hasn’t lost his touch for “staging.” He still knows exactly what elements to add, move off camera and/or align to focus the viewers’ attention on the essentials that make imagery sing.

Technologies unavailable to Shulman fifty years ago now allow the collaborators to produce remarkable Light Jet color prints (some sized as generously as 30” x 40”), brilliantly nuanced to enrich the effect of sky, water, sunlight and shadow. When applied to subject matter that calls out for color enhancement, as in the documentation of the recent restoration of “Griffith Observatory,” the results are stunning. The original 1935 structure, polished but left undisturbed by the infill renovation buried underground, plays off perfectly against the rich gradations of twilight blue sky and foreground shadows. The planetarium’s façade, a blend of Art Deco and Moderne elements, is sited behind a depression-era Works Progress Administration's Astronomers Monument that transforms the worship of science into hagiarchy. The depopulated view is less likely a suggestion of a scene cleared by the invasion of aliens than the conscious effort to avoid the messy intrusion of visitors garbed in fashions that would set the clock at 2007 AD.

revisit sites familiar to admirers of earlier works by Shulman and his cohorts. Actors in biblical costumes wander under a towering palm tree, sidling up to a reflective Crystal Cathedral. Ripples in a body of water recall “Peter Getting Out of Nick's Pool,” taking us back to David Hockney’s ‘60s imagery. Inside a Kaufman house, texts featuring Falling Water and Neutra’s complete works are tabled in the foreground, confronting a row of Eames chairs. Merce Cunningham surveys the scene of past triumphs from his wheelchair in one of a series of photographs taken at Philip Johnson’s Glass House. Architectural elements are doubled in the reflecting pond of the impeccably restored “Case Study House #21,” revealing an underlying yearning by Shulman and Nogai for a structuring force that gives meaning to life.

In a dynamite pairing to Shulman and Nogai’s work, Michael Light structures large scaled, velvety, nighttime aerial pigment prints in a hand bound box, progressively pulling the viewer farther away from the seductive concept of the grid of L.A. lights as a kind of celestial mirror. Corporate logos outshine the glow of City Hall as the helicopter carrying Light and his hand held 4 by 5 camera climbs to a higher vantage point, towards the realization that the electric hubris below has the power to destroy all that we know on this planet.