A recommended film about modern design and photography – Visual Acoustics

“Visual Acoustics: The Modernism of Julius Shulman” is a fascinating look at both the work of photographer Julius Shulman and Julius Shulman the man, produced and directed by Eric Bricker.

Design-focused people are all familiar with Mr. Shulman’s iconic photograph of the Pierre Koenig Case Study House No. 22 in the Hollywood hills at sunset – the corner of the glass house taken from the outside looking in with the beautiful sunset and sparkling city of LA showing through the windows. The black and white photo shows the modern interiors with two women seemingly in conversation in the living room of this exotic and exciting house. For me, this photo captures the essence of the time, the 1950’s, and somehow makes it even more glamorous and mysteriously attractive. Julius Shulman’s images of modernist homes are so well constructed that they attracted me years ago before I was even interested in contemporary design. I used to imagine that one day I too would have a glass house, perhaps overlooking Los Angeles or a mountain scene, with just the minimum of well designed furniture to make it livable, and be wearing a stylish dress and conversing with my stylish friend. This of course, was miles away from my daily life of a mixture of bland “fancy” furniture styles with all kinds of figurines and photos on every side table.

The movie is a celebration of Mr. Shulman’s life and work. We are treated to extensive interviews with him and get to hear his views on many subjects including how he took the photos and his relationship with the architects. We go with him as he visits many of his very famous friends and associates and revisits the sites of many of his famous photographs of modernist homes designed by Richard Neutra, John Lautner, Frank Lloyd Wright, and others.

The film made me reflect on the relationship of artwork and the representation of artwork, in this case through photography. Mr. Shulman was a genius at capturing the essence of the artwork/architecture, in many cases going beyond capturing it to glamorizing it. He said in the film that he was lucky to have such great creations to work with. Looking at the photos is like experiencing the original creation on two levels for me – the architects vision/execution and the photographer/artist’s view of the original work. Both are very worthy of examination in this case in my opinion.

I was also very impressed with his joie d’vivre, his passion for life and his work, and his positive outlook. He was in his 90s when the film was made and had so much energy and so much wisdom to contribute! I appreciated the wide look at his life and work provided in the film.

So, if you like modernism, design, or just want to see a film that engages your mind and your artistic soul, see this film. Here is a link to the film’s website:


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