He might be 97, but Julius Shulman still has the mischievous smile of a 20-something photographer scoping out his next big shot. And during a recent visit to Oklahoma City, the legendary architectural photographer quickly sized up his next project — the recently renovated Skirvin Hilton Hotel. "It's gorgeous — just gorgeous,” Shulman said, promising to return with camera in hand. Such praise is credited with turning Oklahoma architects such as the late Bruce Goff into international superstars. Rising designers David Wanzer and Hans Butzer, who accompanied Shulman on his recent visit to Oklahoma City, said Shulman's photos could turn unknown architects into household names. "Bruce and I were friends for years,” Shulman said. "I met him while he was at OU ... one of the first houses I shot of his was the Bavinger house. That was an amazing breakthrough for him.”
Architecture exists outside of the big cityHerb Greene was another beneficiary of Shulman's eye. Greene's "Prairie Chicken House” received international acclaim after Shulman's photographs were published in Life magazine. "When I photographed the Prairie Chicken House, I took the photographs to New York, as I did with most of my work. I'd do this, introducing people from places like Iowa,” Shulman said. "The average architects, well, what did they know about Iowa in New York? "Herb Greene was a master. He created a body of work that overwhelmed the trade.” Shulman said he saw his mission as being one where he needed to show that great architecture — such as that produced by Greene and Goff — existed outside the nation's biggest cities. And it's that mission that was highlighted during his recent talk as part of the Bruce Goff Lecture Series organized by the College of Architecture at the University of Oklahoma and the AIA Central Oklahoma. Shulman's visit started with an inquiry by Lynne Rostochil, who had discovered Shulman's photos of First Christian Church, which had been designed by her grandfather R. Duane Conner. "We began looking at all the photos he had done, and we were amazed at the work he had done here,” Rostochil said.
Good design isn't always obviousAlthough much of his career was spent in the west, Shulman completed 60 projects in Oklahoma. Butzer said efforts are now under way to borrow some of the photos and display them locally. But not all of the Oklahoma photos feature what one might think of as great architecture. Shulman laughs as he recalls how his shot of 30 urinals along a wall at Tulsa's then new American Airlines plant ended up being used as a double-page advertisement in Architectural Record. "The advertisement was so dramatic — who ever runs a two-page advertisement of urinals?” Shulman said. "And the Crane Company was filled with work — architects saw the advertisement, were impressed with the importance of the project and then everyone was calling the distributors. They got so much business from that advertisement — you wouldn't believe it.” Shulman said it was his pleasure to share what he saw in Oklahoma with the rest of the world. "Oklahoma is very much alive, architecturally,” Shulman said. "Oklahoma is not unknown.”
Who is Julius Shulman?Julius Shulman was born in Brooklyn on Oct. 10, 1910. By the mid-1930s, he had moved to California and taken his first shots of Richard Neutra's Kun House in Hollywood. He soon took photographs of work by nearly every influential modern architect, including Raphael Soriano, Charles Eames, Gregory Ain, and Frank Lloyd Wright. By the 1950s, Shulman's photographs were the face of modern architecture and "California living” for the rest of the world. In the 1960s, as part of the Case Study House Program, Shulman photographed Pierre Koenig's "Case Study House #22,” The Stahl House. The photograph of the steel and glass house with its linear roof would become an icon of modern architecture. Shulman is credited with promoting the California lifestyle of the 1950s and 60s, as well as the careers of the architects of that time. His body of work is housed at the Getty Center in Los Angeles and is considered the definitive record of the clean modernity of the mid-20th Century.