Update: The Julius Shulman photograph sold for $4,063.
What you see: Case Study House #22, a Julius Shulman photograph of the Stahl house, taken in 1960. Los Angeles Modern Auctions (LAMA) estimates it at $2,000 to $3,000.
The expert: Clo Pazera, specialist at LAMA.
Who was Julius Shulman? He was an architectural photographer, born in 1910 and moved to Los Angeles fairly early, at age 10. He took up photography mainly as a hobby, taking mostly nature shots. A friend of his was an assistant to architect Richard Neutra. When he was executing the Kun residence in 1936, he went with his friend and shot pictures of the building. They were shown to Neutra, who liked them. That’s how Shulman grew into an architectural photographer. He had a natural eye and a sense of composition that suited the modern architecture movement of the moment, which was to bring the outside in. His photos complimented the aesthetic.
What was the Case Study House project? The Case Study House project was a vision by John Entenza, the editor of Arts & Architecture magazine. It sponsored a competition for architects [to create] low-cost modern architecture for the post-war period. Entenza sought out particular architects, who submitted projects they were already working on or things they hoped would happen. The project ran from 1945 to 1964.
How did Julius Shulman become involved with the Case Study House project? He didn’t necessarily have a formal role in the project, but he was the go-to guy for photos at that point. A lot of architects invited to the project were people who Shulman had a working relationship with. He might have been invited by one of the architects to shoot a house. He also worked with a lot of magazines. His high-contrast photographs were very suited to the black-and-white magazines of the time.
Is the composition we see in Case Study House #22 the only version that Julius Shulman shot, or have others surfaced? The two most famous shots both have people in them. There’s another from the same angle showing a man facing the city. [Scroll down a bit on this link and you’ll see it, in color, on the left.] The Shulman archives were donated to the Getty. You can access most of the images there. Shulman shot an angle that had no people in it, but it looked pretty rough.
Because the Stahl house wasn’t fully dressed. Exactly. He probably shot a few angles to see what worked, and realized it worked pretty well.
What can we tell, just by looking, how hard it was for Julius Shulman to get this shot? It seems like it was pretty difficult, but by 1960, Shulman had been a professional photographer for 20 years or more. There’s a nice oral history of the house by Curbed L.A., which includes this photo. Evidently, it did require a double exposure–a long exposure to get the city lights, and a flash bulb exposure for the interior. It’s essentially two photos, which he overlaid.
Julius Shulman shot many photographs for the Case Study House project, but this Case Study House #22 shot has unusual staying power. Time magazine included it among the 100 most influential photographs ever taken, and Los Angeles magazine called it “perhaps the most famous picture ever taken of Los Angeles”. Why do you think it resonates so strongly? It’s a really dynamic image. There’s a lot of artistry to it, in the way the lines of the house jut out and match the grid of the city, and the way that Shulman saw that and solidified the architectural vision. It’s a really amazing contrast. There’s a lot to draw the eye. And it has an aspirational quality. When you look at it today, you think, “Oh, I wish I could be living that life!”
The Case Study Houses are meant to showcase Modernist architecture, but the Julius Shulman photo of Case Study House #22 that became legendary includes human beings–the two women talking indoors. Why is this image, which is supposed to be about the architecture, better with people in it? The image of the man with his back to the camera is interesting, but has a lonely quality to it. There’s a warmth to the image of the two women, like it’s a small party on a Saturday night. They add energy that suits the image.
Did Julius Shulman know what he had the instant he shot it, or did he realize it later? I’m not really sure, but he put a lot of effort into the shot. Based on the effort he put into it, he probably thought it was going to be one that made an impact.
What was the general attitude toward Moderism in 1960, when he took this photo? I think it was sort of similar to how it is nowadays. Some are enthusiastic about it, but most prefer traditional homes. It was a fashionable thing to have a Modernist home then, but for most of the country, it was aspirational. And most Modernist homes were built in Los Angeles. Modernism may have changed the vision of what L.A. glamour was, and what the aspiration was.
How did this 1960 Julius Shulman photograph change the general perception of L.A.? This was a new idea of Hollywood glamour. The upcoming Hollywood set was more excited to live there [in a house like the Stahl house] than in a big mansion in the Hollywood hills.
What is this Julius Shulman photograph like in person? Are there aspects that the camera can’t capture? The paper itself is very glossy, and the tones of black are very deep. The contrast he’s known for comes through in the image. There’s definitely a dimensionality to it that doesn’t come through on screen.
Do we know when this 1960 Julius Shulman photo of Case Study House #22 was printed? Not really. This was definitely printed later [than 1960]. How much later is hard to say. It’s signed on the back, but there’s no Shulman studio stamp, which he sometimes used to date things. My guess is it was printed in the 1970s, based on the aging of the piece, but it’s just a guess.
Shulman shot this photograph in 1960, well before there was a secondary market for fine art photography. Do we know why he would have had it printed? He kept some for his archives. He would have printed some for publication, and sometimes, he gave them as gifts. We have another Shulman photo in the auction that he gave to the owner of the house. This was a famous image, so he may have made some to sell, or give to friends. But we’re not entirely sure [of the story] with this one.
Would Julius Shulman have been physically involved in the printing of this photo, or would he have handed that task off to others? At this point in his career, I’m guessing he had assistants to do the physical printing. It’s a pretty arduous process. I’d be surprised if he did the printing himself.
Are all the prints of Case Study House #22 gelatin silver prints, and are they all the size this one is–20 inches by not-quite-16 inches? No. They do come in a range of sizes. We had this one in 2019 in a slightly smaller size. Also, there are color versions, called chromagenic prints, or C-prints. They’re the counterpart to gelatin silver prints. It’s a similar process, but for color.
And this Julius Shulman photo is signed, but not editioned, correct? Yes. It’s signed on the back, but he really didn’t do editions.
Many of the homes that Julius Shulman photographed for the Case Study House project have since been demolished or significantly altered. Does the Stahl house still exist? If so, does it look like it did when Shulman shot it? Yes, it does still exist. In the late 1970s, the original owners largely converted it to a filming location. No one lives there, but it’s well-preserved. You can set up architectural tours, too–not at this moment, with COVID-19, but when things settle down. They happened once a week.
How often do you see this Julius Shulman photo at auction? Fairly often. I’d say a few a year. It’s one of his most popular images.
What condition is this Julius Shulman photo in? This one does have some condition issues–some creasing to the sheet, and signs of handling around the margins. We might have been more aggressive with the estimate if it didn’t have those issues.
What’s the world auction record for a Case Study House #22 image, and for any Julius Shulman photo? The record for any Shulman is $47,500 for Neutra’s Kaufmann house. It was an early to mid-1950s printing that sold in 2010 at Sotheby’s. It looks like the record for Case Study House #22 may be at an auction house in Germany. Grisebach had one in 2014 that sold for about $14,200 in 2015.
Why will this Julius Shulman photo stick in your memory? It has the key aspect you really want from a Julius Shulman photo–a combination of a striking exterior shot of a city contrasted with an interior shot. You can really see yourself being there today.
Image is courtesy of Los Angeles Modern Auctions.
Clo Pazera appeared on The Hot Bid before, talking about an untitled Ed Moses abstract.
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