Julius Shulman, Master Of Architectural Glamour
Architectural photographer Julius Shulman, who created many of the most iconic images of modern architectures, has died at 98.
This image, while not one of his most famous, is one of my favorites. The convertibles, the gloves, the Pegasus, the pristine gas station, the orange trees in the background (soon to become Disneyland)—it exemplifies the exuberant glamour of mid-century Southern California auto culture. (As always, click the photo for a larger version.)
I asked Shulman about it in 2006, when I was researching this Atlantic column. Here's the transcript of our conversation.
“An architect friend Whitney Smith and his partner Wayne Williams were commissioned by Mobil Gas to do a mockup for a new type of design for the Mobil Gas image, including the flying horse. In the background what do you see?”
A Shulman interview always felt like an oral exam. Bushes, I said, people.
“Those aren’t bushes. Those are trees. They’re orange trees. There’s a story....The architect’s wife was there. She was driving an Alfa Romeo convertible, with white gloves. I had her pull her car up just far enough that the bumper would not come inside that shadow line. And then her arms would show. She’s just coming in to get gas, to that station. It’s a story-telling picture.”
Was that her real car? I asked. Or was she posing in someone else’s?
“Yes, that’s her car. My sedan, my blue Ford sedan, which I used for my work, was elsewhere, in another picture. But I got another convertible here. I asked the man to stay there for a minute while I took a photograph. I’m sure he was happy to do it. He pulled in. The moment he pulled in—I had placed her already—I ran over there and said, ‘Would you mind? I have a young lady with a car waiting for me, with a convertible.’ He loved the car. He came over to look at it. I said, ‘Would you stay in your car while I photograph it? I’ll have the attendant talking to you, How many gallons do you want?’ Everyone cooperates. It never fails. So we took this photograph in black and white and color, a series of them. Especially in color, it’s wonderful.”
Information on the new Shulman documentary film Visual Acoustics, currently touring Australia and New Zealand, is here.
UPDATE: This FastCompany.com slide show by DG friend Alissa Walker features a number of Shulman's lesser-known photographs, as well as some iconic ones, with comments from a range of critics including me.
[Mobil Gas Station, Anaheim, California, 1956, Smith & Williams Architects, courtesy of Getty Center, in conjunction with the Modernity & the Metropolis exhibition. Julius Shulman in his office, 2006, by Virginia Postrel.]
---Buy Shulman's books here--