Visual Acoustics: The Modernism Of Julius Shulman – Review

Visual Acoustics: The Modernism Of Julius Shulman

Visual Acoustics: The Modernism Of Julius Shulman – Review. By Hugues Porquier.

Total discovery for some, vibrant tribute for others, “Visual Acoustics, The Modernism of Julius Shulman” (2008) directed By Eric Bricker, retraces the history and career of Julius Shulman.  Specialized in the modernism of the south of California and more precisely of Los Angeles, Julius Shulman, born in 1910 and who died in 2009, is still today the most influential architectural photographer who ever lived on this planet.

He was mainly known for his photographs of mansions built by renowned architects and containing elements of nature such as mountains, trees or water.  In this documentary, narrated by Dustin Hoffman, we discover the work of Julius Shulman, but also the man he was. 



Through the various testimonies of his family and friends, but also through Julius Shulman himself. Shulman seems to be a smiling man, who laughs easily. He is a real enthusiast and a nature lover. The trigger for his career came from his meeting, in 1936, with Richard Neutra, an architect who was looking for a photographer to document his work and with whom he worked until his death in 1970.  This meeting allowed him to work with many other very influential architects such as Frank Lloyd Wright, John Lautner or Albert Frey.

Through the life of a man of that influence, who lived almost a century, the documentary also linger on modernism in architecture thanks to Shulman’s photographic archives. The documentary looks back on historical aspects such as the emergence of modernism, which is the idea that says that form follows function, the form of a building should be related to the function it’s supposed to have. 

The film also offers an exploration of his iconic Case Study House photos, and some of the photographs for which he is famous. It allows us to look at stunning photographs of Los Angeles or Palms Springs. In the end of the 1950s, thanks to the architectural press, such as “House and garden” or “Modern Home”, he will be able to develop his influence on the American public and to present an innovative lifestyle to the world. 

Shulman’s work may seem complex to fully understand. This is why there is interventions from professionals such as Tom Ford, Ed Ruscha, Dante Spinotti or Frank Gehry who help us to have a better comprehension of Julius’ talent.  They allow us to grasp the aestheticism and the vision of the world that Shulman presents to the world through his work. 

Julius Shulman defines the way we look at modernism. His whole life has been devoted to documenting and illustrating the evolution of build environment in architectural form. 

This entertaining and educational documentary allows us to discover an architectural movement but also a genius of photography. 


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