For decades, the California Dream meant the chance to own a stucco home on a sliver of paradise. The point was the yard with the palm trees, not the contour of the walls. Julius Shulman helped change all that. In May 1960, the Brooklyn-born photographer headed to architect Pierre Koenig’s Stahl House, a glass-enclosed Hollywood Hills home with a breathtaking view of Los Angeles—one of 36 Case Study Houses that were part of an architectural experiment extolling the virtues of modernist theory and industrial materials. Shulman photographed most of the houses in the project, helping demystify modernism by highlighting its graceful simplicity and humanizing its angular edges. But none of his other pictures was more influential than the one he took of Case Study House No. 22. To show the essence of this air-breaking cantilevered building, Shulman set two glamorous women in cocktail dresses inside the house, where they appear to be floating above a mythic, twinkling city. The photo, which he called “one of my masterpieces,” is the most successful real estate image ever taken. It perfected the art of aspirational staging, turning a house into the embodiment of the Good Life, of stardusted Hollywood, of California as the Promised Land. And, thanks to Shulman, that dream now includes a glass box in the sky.
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Case Study House #22 The Stahl House, 1960
Architect: Pierre Koenig
Silver gelatin print
Print size: 24" x 30" (60.96 x 76.2 cm)
Case Study House #22 The Stahl House 1960 Considered by many to be the most iconic home of the modern movement, Case Study House #22 (The Stahl House) is a classic mid-century modern home. Built in the Hollywood Hills, on the side of a mountain.
Silver Gelatin print (Ilford MGD 44 M’ “Pearl”), Limited Edition. Shulman's stamp, date and signature in black ink on recto. Signed by Julius Shulman in his Hollywood Hills studio.
Mr. Shulman was part of a postwar generation of commercial architecture photographers who specialized in Modernist buildings, working on assignment for architects and mass-market magazines like Life, House & Garden and Good Housekeeping as well as architecture publications. Among his peers were Ezra Stoller in New York and the Chicago firm of Hedrich Blessing.
Over a career of more than half a century, Mr. Shulman almost always used black-and-white film, the better to reduce his subjects to their geometric essentials. But he was also able to make the hard glass and steel surfaces of postwar Modernist architecture appear comfortable and inviting.
Working mostly in California, Mr. Shulman staged his photographs as tableaus to promote the idea of casual living in a Modernist context. Carefully composed and artfully lighted, his images promoted not only new approaches to home design but also the ideal of idyllic California living — a sunny, suburban lifestyle played out in sleek, spacious, low-slung homes featuring ample glass, pools and patios.