Going big III: Julius, and conceptualization

Case Study #22 -- Pierre Koenig, Architect, photo by Julius Shulman

Case Study #22 -- Pierre Koenig, Architect, photo by Julius Shulman

The December 4th issue of the New Yorker features a short piece about Philip Johnson's Glass House, which was recently photographed by architectural photographer Julius Shulman. Julius Shulman is 96 years old, and last photographed this house in 1963.

If you don't know his name, you probably know his images. Shulman is famous for his photographs of modern architecture by Richard Neutra, Frank Lloyd Wright, and Charles and Ray Eames. Last year I saw a wonderful exhibit of Shulman's work at the Getty Museum, and also checked out his book, Julius Shulman: Architecture and Its Photography and A Constructed View: The Architectural Photography of Julius Shulman.

Shulman spent two days photographing the Glass House in Chicago. He made sixteen images. Let's have a moment of silence for all the 35mm shooters to gasp. 2 days, 16 images. Probably with a 4x5 camera and black and white film.

Whippersnappers with digital SLRs might find this incredulous, as it's the polar opposite of the digital SLR mentality -- keep on shooting until it looks good on the back of the camera. Or "spray and pray" as the sports shooters call it.

Let me ask you an important question. Do you sometimes know before you press the shutter release that you've made a great photo? When in the photographic process do you move from the idea to make an image of something, to the conceptualization of the photograph, to the realization that this will be the most pleasing image you've shot in some time?

Sometimes I know before looking through the camera, other times this knowing is confirmed in the viewfinder. Once in a while I'm surprised by a great image on the back of the digital SLR, but usually I know beforehand. After becoming serious about photography I shot film for a few years before going digital. I wonder how this process differs for people that have done almost all of their photography with a digital camera?

Maybe the review piece of shooting digital isn't that different than shooting medium or large format with a Polaroid back, but the number of exposures seems to be at opposite ends of the spectrum. Some may argue that it's the final image that counts. Whether it takes you 300 shots with digital to get a few keepers, or 5 sheets of 4x5 film. But are some digital shooters spending too much time pressing buttons and chimping, instead of doing more work between their eyes and brain first?

Have a look at this interesting article by Bernard Languillier over on Luminous Landscape called On the Appeal of Large Format Cameras for an Innocent DSLR Photographer. I feel a large debt of gratitude to Bernard for his extensive article on this topic, as it brought me back down to earth on a number of important issues. Tune in later this week for another episode of Going big.