Magazine article The New Yorker

STILL MODERN; DEPT. OF PRESERVATION Series: 3/5

Magazine article The New Yorker

STILL MODERN; DEPT. OF PRESERVATION Series: 3/5

Article excerpt

Philip Johnson's Glass House, which is actually a compound of fourteen structures on a rolling hillside in New Canaan, Connecticut, is one of the most photographed pieces of twentieth-century architecture. But when the new executive director of the property, Christy MacLear, started work last summer she discovered that the National Trust for Historic Preservation, which now owns the house and will open it as a museum next year, didn't have the right to use any of the pictures that filled architecture books. "All the pictures belonged to the photographers, so when Johnson died, last year, he couldn't leave them to us," MacLear said. "I realized we had to take our own."

That explains why MacLear spent two gray, damp days recently traipsing around Johnson's forty-seven acres with Julius Shulman, a ninety-six-year-old architectural photographer from Los Angeles. Shulman is to architectural photographers what Philip Johnson was to architects. Johnson was still going regularly to his office until a couple of years before his death, at ninety-eight, and Shulman seems equally uninterested in slowing down. He is working on two new books, and a month ago he flew to Chicago to photograph a series of postwar modernist buildings. He has been around long enough to see the buildings he likes be the newest thing, fall out of fashion, and come back in again.

"The last time I was here was 1963," Shulman said, as he sat at Johnson's marble dining table, eating a sandwich. "I didn't want to look at my old pictures before coming back. I wanted this to be a brand-new experience." Shulman started out by photographing the Glass House, which was fourteen years old when he last visited, and then went on to photograph the inside and outside of two of Johnson's buildings that he had never seen before: the freestanding library, a curving structure of terra-cotta-colored stucco with a conical top, which Johnson built in 1980, and the angular, white-painted sculpture gallery, of 1970.

MacLear had arranged for a golf cart to get Shulman around the property, but he barely used it. He had brought with him a fold-up metal walker onto which he had Scotch-taped a Mercedes-Benz logo. Each time MacLear offered to get the golf cart, he said, "No, I think I'll take the Mercedes." Shulman decided on a general angle for each photograph, and then dispatched his collaborator, Juergen Nogai, to carry the camera and tripod as Shulman--dressed in an ascot, a blue striped shirt, a vest, and a dark-green Tyrolian jacket--pushed his walker slowly through the tall grass. …

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