Julius Shulman is famous for supremely elegant architectural photographs of California houses by modern masters like John Lautner, Oskar Schindler, and Charles and Rae Eames. But a new book, “Los Angeles: The Birth of a Modern Metropolis,” which showcases his personal and editorial work from the 1930’s through the 1960’s, features shots of less exalted buildings, as well as panoramas taken in and around LA. Another side of the photographer emerges, one that’s interested in the texture of the evolving city. His landscape photos are especially revealing, showing a metropolis emerging bit-by-bit as outlying farmlands and fields are given over to new school campuses, industrial complexes, and residential subdivisions.
Whatever he’s photographing– a high school gymnasium, an assembly line, or a farm– Shulman composes the frame with the same forceful diagonal sight lines he uses in his architectural photos, lines that pull a viewer right in. That he’s able to structure views of everyday buildings like gas stations, car dealerships and diners in this manner is skillful. That he’s able to structure streetscapes and landscapes this way is remarkable. His forceful perspectives give even the broadest, most diffuse views a pointed, cinematic allure, one that’s entirely fitting given the business of the city.