Tuesday, April 5, 2011

The Built Up Environment

Manhattan, 2008
Last August I wrote about the work of Julius Shulman, the photographer of architecture whose work us so lovingly documented in the film Visual Acoustics. Visual Acoustics is a movie I find I can enjoy and find inspiration in however often I watch it. Part of this is the buildings Shulman photographed. But a lot of it has to be the enthusiasm Shulman brought to his work. He loved photography and the work of Modernist architects. He chronicled their work and brought it to the attention of the world.
There were two major influences on my photography when I was first learning about it during the 1960s. One was the work of the famous photojournalists of the early Twentieth Century, especially the members of the Magnum collective.
The other major influence was architectural photographer Ezra Stoller. I’ve always been fascinated by the design of buildings. For much of my adult life I’ve been a faithful reader of architecture magazines. Progressive Architecture and Art & Architecture have long ceased publishing. But Architectural Record, the pages of which were once littered with Stoller’s photographs, is still in business and is in fact the first magazine I subscribed to in electronic form on my iPad.
One of the things that distinguished Julius Shulman’s architectural photography from that of Ezra Stoller was that Shulman didn’t mind having people in his photographs. Stoller’s photographs usually didn’t show people. For Stoller, it was all about the structure of the buildings. I don’t think I’ve ever seen an Ezra Stoller photograph that was anything but clean and elegant. Shulman, on the other hand, carried around a car full of furnishings that he used to dress the interiors of the modern residences he photographed. I don’t know that he hired models to inhabit his scenes. (It’s said that Shulman’s friend Richard Neutra, not to be outdone, carried around tree limbs and eucalyptus fronds to place into the foreground of Shulman’s photos to give them the  sensation of landscaping.) But if there happened to be people in the camera’s view when Shulman was composing his shots, he didn’t necessarily hustle them out of sight. It didn’t hurt, of course, that many of the people whose iconic homes he photographed were stylish and attractive.
Manhattan, above was shot from the street on, I believe, Madison Avenue in New York. There’s not a lot of story to it other than that it’s in the style of Ezra Stoller.
8 Spruce Street is the new Frank Gehry-designed apartment house in lower Manhattan. I didn’t know what it was when I first saw it last year. I was driving down Centre Street headed for the Brooklyn Bridge when I happened to look up from the traffic and see the curved façade of 8 Spruce Street looking down at me. I knew I was looking at something special.
8 Spruce Street, 2010


  1. You do a great job of photographing this type of subject--love these. I've never seen that second building--how cool is that!

  2. I agree on both counts; you do a great job and that is a cool building!