- Julius Shulman
- KAUFMANN HOUSE, PALM SPRINGS, 1947
- gelatin silver print
- 7 3/4 by 9 in. (19.5 by 24.3 cm.)
Acquired directly from the photographer, 1997
S. Niedenthal, "'Glamourized Houses': Neutra, Photography, and the Kaufmann House," Journal of Architectural Education, Vol. 47, No. 2 (Nov. 1993), pp. 101-112
J. Rosa and E. McCoy, A Constructed View: The Architectural Photography of Julius Shulman, New York 1994, pp. 10, 70-71, 74-76, 215
M. Stern and A. Hess, Julius Shulman: Palm Springs, Palm Springs 2008, pp. 16-27
J. Shulman and P. Gössel, Architecture and Its Photography, Cologne and New York 1998, pp. 18-21, 96-98
J. Shulman, The Photography of Architecture and Design, New York and London 1977, pp. 10-13, 25, 30-31, 71-73
J. Shulman, Photographing Architecture and Interiors, Los Angeles 2000 (reissue of 1962 edition), pp. 70-71, 81, 119
This early print of Julius Shulman's architectural icon, his 1947 photograph of the Kaufmann House, is believed to be one of only a handful of early prints of the image extant, and the only one to have appeared at auction. The photograph is a touchstone within the histories of photography, modern architecture and design, and the modern aesthetic. The image became the definitive photograph of Richard Neutra's modernist masterpiece, the Kaufmann House in Palm Springs, essentially from the time of its making in 1947. No other photograph within Shulman's oeuvre demonstrates the photographer's mastery of his medium as surely as this. The result of a carefully orchestrated 45-minute exposure, during which interior and exterior lights were illuminated for varying lengths of time at Shulman's direction, and the fading natural light exploited fully, the photograph encapsulates the subtle modulations of light, three-dimensional rendering of space, and sense of the passage of time that make the image so compelling. With its exceedingly wide tonal range—extending from luminous white to the deepest black—the print offered here possesses an object quality and presence not seen in prints of the image made later.
The Kaufmann House was designed in 1946 by Richard Neutra, one of three houses built by the architect in the Palm Springs area. In the spring of 1947, Shulman spent three days with Neutra at the house, photographing interiors and exteriors, at the architect's request. As Shulman recounted to Simon Niedenthal, on the third day, toward twilight, he
'looked outside towards . . . the desert . . saw the light fading and it looked beautiful. I ran back in the house, got my camera, and set it up . . . When I was running, Neutra called me . . . He said "wait a minute where are you going?" I said, "Well now Richard, come on outside, it's beautiful" . . . He said, "no we don't do it, we haven't got the time, we have got to do more interiors." I said we can't stop this' (quoted in 'Glamourized Houses': Neutra, Photography, and the Kaufmann House, in JAE, November 1993, p. 102).
Niedenthal recounts that the photograph was made in three sequential exposures on one sheet of film, over a period of about 45 minutes: 'The first exposure was for the overall exterior illumination and some of the house lights; the second for the exterior soffit lighting and other interior lights. For the third exposure, Shulman asked Mr. Kaufmann to turn on the pool light, and posed Mrs. Kaufmann to block the glare' (ibid., p. 102). Along with Shulman's pitch-perfect composition, it is the compression of 45-plus minutes of time onto its single negative that gives this photograph its quality of heightened reality.
When it was first published in Life magazine in 1949, Shulman's photograph was featured boldly on a two-page spread. And although the article was titled 'Glamourized Houses,' it focused primarily on Shulman's photography rather than on architecture. It stated 'Photographer Julius Shulman is a master at making [houses] look dramatic,' and then went onto describe how the photograph was executed technically. As published, Shulman's photograph embodied a new idealized lifestyle, with the Kaufmann House playing only a supporting role. If Neutra's International Style masterpiece is considered by many to be one of the five most important houses of the 20th century, that perception was in large part shaped by Shulman's photograph. With its geometric forms, set in stark relief against the mountainous natural landscape, the image established Neutra's reputation as 'the visionary architect.' The photograph stands apart from all others in Shulman's canon as one of his two most famous photographs, and is one of the most familiar of all architectural images.
It is not surprising that this evocative image became a stand-in for the house itself, or that it is through this photograph that most people today know the structure. Neutra's biographer Thomas Hines states that this single Shulman image – 'one of modern architecture's most brilliant and famous photographs' – was responsible for the house's fame (Niedenthal, p. 101). Palm Springs museum curator Michael Stern wrote that 'it may well be not the house but the image of the house in Shulman's photograph that transformed' Neutra's structure into an icon (M. Stern, Julius Shulman: Palm Springs, 2008, p. 19).
The drama inherent in the print offered here is the result not only of the calibrated extended exposure, but also of darkroom manipulation, at which Shulman was a master. 'Because of photographic limitations, a direct print from the original negative of this photograph was not desirable,' Shulman wrote. 'Photographing into the western sky shortly after sunset with prolonged exposure had destroyed the residual tones; they had to be restored in the darkroom' (Shulman, 2000, p. 70). In particular, the sky area, which had become over-exposed during the 45-minute exposure, needed to be 'burned-in' during printing. As seen in the print offered here, Shulman took a radical approach to the burning-in process, darkening the upper portion of the sky to an absolute black. For Shulman, darkroom techniques were a vital part of the photographic process, as they allowed him to create a sense of mood and a heightened drama in his prints, and to create effects that enhanced his modernist aesthetic. By deepening the sky in the darkroom, Shulman was able to produce a sunset with gradations of shadows over the mountains, contrasting with the complex array of mid-tones of the house and foreground. It is this band of darkness, and his skillful handling of the tones throughout the image, that give the photograph its visual impact. As Shulman himself wrote, 'Darkroom manipulation in printing is a technique of infinite value. The delicate nuances of tone and the adding or subtracting by dodging often are the crowning touch' (Shulman, 1977, p. 71).
The discipline of International Style architecture directed Shulman toward what he called a 'severity of perception' (Rosa, p. 214), and he was a perfectionist in his approach to photographic technique. This made him an ideal photographer for the demanding Richard Neutra. A group of later prints of this image in the collection of the Getty Museum illustrates Shulman's approach to his craft. These were prints that had been presented to Shulman for inspection, and his assessment of them was unforgiving. Withholding his approval, he wrote memos on the backs of them: 'Sky too pale and overall print too light—needs more ''snap.''' On another he instructed the printer, 'Note degree of burning in of the sky'; and on two 4-by-5-inch contact prints (which he considered undesirable) he wrote boldly in black marker over the sky area, 'Darken' and 'This will be darkened.'
The print offered here, which was acquired from Shulman himself, clearly shows the version of the image that the photographer had originally visualized in the fading light of a spring day, and represents the ideal early state of the image.
The impact of Shulman's Kaufmann House since it was first published has been lasting, and its iconic authority continues to grow. As one writer has noted about this sublime image, 'Many a contemporary photographer intentionally or not pays homage to the magic Julius Shulman conjured out of dusk, the Palm Springs landscape, and the infinite glow emanating from Richard Neutra's hovering forms' (Harvard Design Magazine, Fall 1998, p. 44).