In the Home of the Photographer of Homes

On a recent afternoon I visited the legendary photographer Julius Shulman at his house high in the Hollywood Hills, ostensibly so that he could sign books for LACMA’s showing of Visual Acoustics: The Modernism of Julius Shulman, a new documentary on his work. Since Shulman, now 98 years old, is charming and full of stories when friends come to visit, I asked Edward Robinson, our new Associate Curator of Photography, Alexandra Klein, Ralph M. Parsons Curatorial Fellow, and my husband, Don Llewellyn, to join me. We all talked about photography and ate pastries while Shulman signed books.

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Carol Norcross, Julius Shulman

Architect Raphael Soriano designed Shulman’s house, which was built in 1950 on a bare hillside. Today it is surrounded by a lush tangle of plants and neither the L.A. basin below nor the surrounding houses can be easily seen. Except for the front hallway, it seems almost entirely built of glass. Sliding doors and hidden gardens on all sides allow breezes to flow through the rooms. I have been up to visit several times and it always surprises me. One time, the clouds were so low that the house seemed to float among them. This time, the sun was out and hummingbirds flew among the flowers outside.

Shulman’s daughter Judy was visiting that day, and she talked about growing up in a house with built-ins and wood-paneled walls—her double bed was immovable, its headboard part of low shelves that run around two sides of the room. An eight-foot glass door leads to a tiny garden just outside, and during spring cleaning she would pull her toys and dollhouse there.

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Side door with garden

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The studio

The first time I was in this house was for a benefit for the Ennis Brown House. As a supporter for museums and landmarks in and around Los Angeles, Shulman partnered with Juergen Nogai in 2006 to create Disney Hall at Twilight, a limited-edition print for LACMA’s Photographic Arts Council. Cheerful always and glad to recount stories about his Los Angeles, Shulman is himself a monument.

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Edward Robinson takes a close look at the photographer's work

Visual Acoustics: The Modernism of Julius Shulman will be screening at LACMA this Sunday, June 7.

Carol Norcross, Book Buyer

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