Remembering Julius Shulman.
This special edition of Design Notes is a continuation of the following post that appeared on the DWR blog on July 16:
It is with great sadness that we learned of the passing of our dear friend Julius Shulman. The legendary photographer died on July 15 at the age of 98. Shulman has been part of our family since the beginning, and it seems like everyone at DWR has a great story about Shulman or one of his photographs above their desk or a favorite book of his work in their library. Shulman amazed us with his talent and kept us laughing with his stories. We loved him dearly, and as my colleague Matt Wilkerson so graciously put it, “we should all be so lucky to live a life as full as his was.”
After posting this, my coworkers sent me photographs and stories to share, and I invite you, our readers, to share your own stories as well.
“I was new to DWR when we visited Shulman in 2003. All I knew was that we were going to some architectural photographer’s home. It was a little awkward at first, but then this man started talking about how perturbed he was at Martha Stewart. Her team had just photographed a ‘Dining Al Fresco’ spread at Shulman’s home for her magazine, and he was disappointed at the proofs they sent over. ‘All they show is this damn tabletop, and the stuff she sells,’ he ranted. ‘There is not one photo that shows any architecture or any space where you can actually dine al fresco.’
“The rant continued for some time, and he was constantly stopping to answer the 1950s telephone on his desk. ‘That was Taschen. I guess they want me to do another book,’ (he’d shrug) ‘I guess, so.’ More rant…another phone call. ‘Shulman. Where? Germany? If you say so.’ Click. ‘I guess I’m going to Germany for some award.’ It was like a scene from a movie.
“While he was talking I noticed a large book promotion poster on the wall. It was at that moment that I realized that this ‘architectural photographer’ was Julius Shulman. And that poster was the front cover of a book that an architect friend had given me for my birthday years earlier. The book was Julius Shulman: Architecture and its Photography. It is a big, beautiful book with amazing pictures of mid-century homes. Up until that point, my education in design and architecture had been focused on heavy moldings, lots of fringe, boxed ceilings and Corinthian columns. But then I was given this book and everything changed. It was an epiphany. I started emptying my shelves and cleaning off my tabletops. I started receiving this very cool catalog from some company in San Francisco called Design Within Reach. My interest grew, and within a year of being given that book, I was working for DWR, sitting in Shulman’s home. It was a magical moment, the kind that affirms you are on the right path. I had made a decision at a fork in the road, and here was confirmation that I went in the right direction.” –M.W.
"His humility and almost self-effacing attitude were very endearing as well as refreshing. He told me that as a young man he sent some photos to Frank Lloyd Wright, asking if he could photograph some of Wright’s designs. Wright responded with a very FLLW-type no, saying he did not allow amateurs to photograph his work. At the end of the letter, Wright added a P.S.: 'But stick with it young man. You do appear to have a certain talent.' Shulman still had this handwritten letter from Wright pinned to his office wall when I met him. I knew that Shulman had later become Wright’s exclusive photographer and friend, so I asked him why he kept the letter. He said it was to remind himself." –R.B.
“Julius Shulman was a regular guest and honoree at DWR Studio events. One evening in 2008 we hosted a book signing at Beverly Boulevard for Julius Shulman: Palm Springs. When Julius took questions from the crowd, someone asked him what the key to his success had been. Julius simply replied, ‘I am a damn good photographer.’ Later that evening, after a few cocktails, he pulled me aside and handed me a card on which he had written ‘Vodka Within Reach’ and chuckled. We are going to miss him very much. I feel so fortunate to have met him.” – S.W.
“Julius was a national treasure; mostly cheerful, quick-witted, well weathered and never short to task. If you would like to fall in love with him all over again, I recommend seeing the documentary film Visual Acoustics, the Modernism of Julius Shulman by Eric Bricker. You will cry when, in his 90s, he receives an honorary architecture degree from Woodbury University and laugh with him and his anecdotes through the whole film. The DWR Studio in Austin is working with Bricker to host a reception for the release of the film.” – V.C.
“The night that we picked up Shulman to take him to the opening of Tools for Living – when he was calling me ‘driver’ for the entire ride – that night was the last time I saw him. He was a great man. He inspired me, he helped me realize how much can be accomplished in 98 years. His world was big, and he said yes to so many things, and at 98 he was still saying yes and still enjoying new experiences, people and great design. He will be missed.” –M.W.
“About a month ago, I spent a day with Shulman. We talked, laughed and planned a future event together. He wanted to come to San Francisco and photograph my home and was going to stay with us. As we were making these plans, I noticed a photograph of Shulman in the corner. He was wearing a smart sport coat and an ascot, and there was a comely redhead sitting on his lap. I told Julius that this woman appeared to be smitten with him. He laughed and told me to turn over the photo. (It was three feet tall, more of a poster, but in Julius’ office anything could get lost in a corner.) On the back were Polaroids of this lovely young lady emerging from a large champagne glass. The photos were taken at Shulman’s 98th birthday party. When I told him she seemed to be a lovely gift, he advised me that he did not get to keep her and he laughed. At 98 he was still a young man, enjoying every minute. So when I heard of his passing I poured a glass of bourbon, toasted him one last time, and thanked the fates for allowing me the privilege of calling him friend.” –R.B.
- Gwendolyn Horton