Focus on design: Architectural photographer zooms in on some of Oklahoma's buildings

By Steve Lackmeyer Published: September 17, 2008
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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 city
Herb 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.



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.

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