Lords of the Lens

8 great architectural photographers—mid-century California was their domain
  Lords of the Lens
The silhouette in this photo belongs to photographer Ernie Braun, seen here in a 1950s Eichler Homes shoot in Marin County.

Few things are as pleasurable as thumbing through old architectural magazines. Renderings and sketches from the old days—gradually supplanted by photographs and, later, digital renderings—present domestic dwellings not just as they look, but also as they should look.

When seen the proper way—in the right light, with the right attitude.

A good architectural photo captures something about the building you might not otherwise notice or appreciate. It conveys emotion. It can make or break a building—giving it a place in history or taking it away.

The photographers who grew up with modern architecture in California may not be responsible for what homes and other structures look like. But they did bring structures to the attention of the public. They also helped build architectural reputations. And they helped decide which houses would live in history and which would be forgotten.

  Lords of the Lens
Two of our 'lords of the lens' come together. Southern California photographer Julius Shulman (right) with Leland Lee, who was Shulman's assistant in the 1950s.

In his 2006 book NorCalMod: Icons of Northern California Modernism, Pierluigi Serraino makes clear that 'icons' can refer to both buildings and photos of buildings. He also provides a mini-history of 20th-century California architectural photography.

"Without a picture, or with a low-quality image," Serraino writes, "the chances that a project will leave an imprint on the mind of the readership are fairly slim…"

"On the other hand," he says, "a handful of architectural photographers have the remarkable ability to make viewers relate to their photographs at a subliminal level. They are creators of idealized landscapes of modern living that transcend and supersede what they represent."

Here are eight of the California greats...

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