The late Julius Shulman was a great architectural photographer—one of the greatest—but not many people know about his work, or indeed know anything about architectural photography as a whole. Director Eric Bricker is out to change that with his new documentary, Visual Acoustics.
Visual Acoustics focuses not only on Shulman’s extensive body of work—at the time of his passing he had been photographing the works of the greatest architects of the 20th century for nearly 70 years—but on Shulman himself. A great humanist, Shulman was aware of the beauty to be found in everyday life, a philosophy that is reflected in his work.
First-time director Bricker took the time to answer MovieMaker’s questions about his interest in Shulman, his hopes that the film will expose more people to architectural photography and his future projects.
Rebecca Pahle (MM): When you began work on Visual Acoustics, you had already known and developed a friendship with the late Julius Shulman. What drove your decision to make a film about him?
Eric Bricker (EB): There were two key factors driving my decision to make a film about Julius: The first was my belief that his photography was worthy of big-screen real estate and I wanted to see those images projected on a large screen. The second was I wanted more people to have the opportunity to get to know “Uncle Julius.”
Julius was a remarkable human being. He was not only a master photographer, but a master of living as well. His ability to connect with people—whether at a book signing for five minutes, photographing someone’s house for a day or visiting a friend he might have known for 60 years—was a gift in and of itself. In addition, I have never met a person who had more appreciation for life than he. Julius was able to delight in pretty much everything around him and I think that living in this permanent state of fascination and curiosity were some of the main ingredients of his longevity.
MM: To my knowledge there has been no other documentary on architectural photography—Visual Acoustics is the first to fill that gap. Why do you think it is important that people know about the works of Shulman? What do you want people to take away from your film?
EB: I don’t view Julius strictly as an exceptional architectural photographer; rather, I view him as an exceptional photographer. One of the main intentions of the film is to expose his work to a larger audience and not only promote a greater awareness of Shulman’s photography, but of architecture in general.
Architecture is all around us, figuratively and literally, and I am hoping that by individuals having an opportunity to meet Julius, one of architecture’s greatest ambassadors, they will walk away with a deeper appreciation, understanding and sensitivity to the built environment. It is my hope that, afterward, they go out and take architectural tours, read books and get plugged into the architectural community.
Toward the end of the film, Julius says: “Life can be beautiful. What more can I say?” This statement for me is probably the overall theme of the film. Julius was the kind of person who was able to find pleasure in whatever it was he was doing. It is simply a state of mind that all of us have the ability to cultivate and, if one is able to nurture this state, it is the path to a rich and rewarding life.
MM: You have written that Shulman, in addition to being a great photographer, was a great humanist as well. Was it difficult to balance those two aspects of his life in the film? Were you ever tempted just to focus on the photography, or was it easy to meld the two?
EB: It was really easy to meld the two because those were the two main points of departure for the entire project. Actually, come to think of it, Julius’ photographs are really an extension of who he was. The photographs possess a certain amount of optimism in a celebratory manner and that was Julius. In observing him work, you could see him at his happiest. Moving through a space, lining up a composition, talking with the clients, this was sheer joy for Julius and you can get a sense of that in his photographs.
After working so long with the material, I am able to look at the photographs and actually see and hear echoes of Julius in the work. The photographs live on as not only statements of modern architecture, but as statements of who Julius was as well.
MM: Was it difficult to obtain funding for this film? It’s always interesting to learn how documentaries get funded, because it seems like there’s less demand for them than for narrative films.
EB: I found funding the most difficult part of the entire project. I had never done anything like this and the scale of it made it appear as if it was a trek up Mount Everest. Fortunately, I had assembled a production team trekking every step of the way with me all the way to the top.
The funding was comprised of grants, donations, fundraisers and private investments; pretty much every type source imaginable.
MM: Visual Acoustics is the first film you have directed. Do you have any plans for upcoming projects?
EB: I have another documentary in the works entitled What If…? How Geeks & Gamers Will Save the World. The film looks at online virtual worlds and how they have captured the attention of hundreds of millions of users. What If…? offers a hopeful look at a future where the connectedness occurring in the virtual new frontier spills over into the real world forever altering our economy, politics, society and reality.
In addition to the film, we will be launching an online social game, which gives the audience the tools to start manipulating the real world in a positive way while having a really good time doing so. The audience will have the tools to not only write their own story but impact the world in a positive way as well. Dallas Snell of Origin and NC soft North America fame is executive producing the game.
In addition to What If…?, I am working on a narrative feature with my writing partner, Jonas Koffler. The film is an abstract western that pits the natural world against the artificial world, love versus enmity and good against the ruthless forces of impending doom… but with an implausible twist.
Arthouse Films will open Visual Acoustics theatrically in New York on October 9 with a national release to follow. Visit www.juliusshulmanfilm.com for more information.