Few would dispute that Julius Shulman was one of the 20th century's greatest architectural photographers, writes Robert Elwall , but as 'Shulmania' gathers pace with a mass of merchandising one is entitled to question whether the reissue of a near 40-year-old primarily technical manual is not an exposure too far.
Originally published in 1962, this was Shulman's first book and so abounds in anachronisms.The business and practice of architectural photography have moved on from the days of Tiltall tripods and $150 day rates to embrace digital technologies dismissed as 'diversions' by Shulman in a new preface. For all its appearance of cashing in on the Shulman bandwagon, however, this book rewards perseverance, providing a more detailed insight into Shulman's working methods and philosophy than his recent, rather bombastic autobiography.
Shulman rightly attributes his success to the creation of a proper balance of light, in particular his ability to reconcile indoor and outdoor exposures, which was so vital to the portrayal of the Californian houses he largely photographed.
With a judicious selection of examples ranging from now-established classics to lesser-known works such as David Fowler's Pavilion at Lake Arrowhead, Shulman discloses the technical secrets of his trade including his controversial use of infrared film which revealed elements sometimes invisible to the naked eye.
Shulman's working method would, of course, count for nothing unless allied to his intuitive eye, which resulted in photographs that have become art works in their own right.The importance Shulman attaches to the close relationship between architect and photographer is underlined by the inclusion of a stimulating essay by his first client, Richard Neutra.
Ironically, the biggest disappointment is the reproduction of the photographs themselves.
Perhaps it is time for publishers to abandon the narrow focus view on architectural photography for a more wide-angled vision, which would embrace the work of undeservedly neglected photographers such as the United States'F S Lincoln and our own Dell & Wainwright.
Robert Elwall is curator of the RIBA Library Photographs Collection