“The camera is the least important element in photography.” —Julius Shulman

The photographic work of Julius Shulman is in your psyche. He is the voice of architectural modernism in a media-saturated America, and even if you haven’t set foot inside one of the many wonders he has so expertly framed, your imagination—thanks to him—certainly has.

Last week I watched the 2009 documentary which celebrates the work of this visionary. Visual Acoustics: The Modernism of Julius Shulman was a beauty to behold. Not simply for the stunning visuals—the work of both Shulman and the architects he made famous—but also for the insight into the deep character of the man behind the photographs.

Modernism has a sleek perfection that seems to exude a certain coolness—an aura both cold and “cool”. I personally don’t buy in to the idea that modernism, in any of its forms, is cold, uninviting, or snobby. (Attitudes and ego are prevalent in everything—in art as in philosophy.) If anything, I would say that the godfathers of modernism simply take themselves too seriously. But to watch this documentary is to glimpse the humanity and grace within and behind this art form. The warm and bubbly spirit of one of modernism’s biggest proponents is shown in this film. Shulman, who died last year, was a congenial man and a kind soul, who clearly saw the worth in people, as well as built forms. This is nothing short of heartening. He is a master that will continue to inspire me—and I hope others—to create work that is the best that it can be, all the while with a love for life and a love of others.

Visual Acoustics was directed by Eric Bricker and narrated by Dustin Hoffman. The titles, animation and site were designed by Trollbäck + Company. You can find a slideshow at the New York Times, as well as a couple posts remembering Shulman’s life, both on The Moment Blog and over at Metropolis.

Photos one and two on this page are from the New York Times. The feature image is from the film’s website.

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