Saturday morning I dragged my ass out of bed and down to the Arclight/Dome for the Los Angeles Conservancy Annual Meeting. Although there were many good reasons to be in attendance, I was there to see Julius Shulman.
We settled into our seats just as the meeting started. I was having a hard time keeping my eyes open, even through David Ulin’s wonderful slide lecture. Tim Wride, former associate curator of the Photography Department of LACMA, moderated the panel and was really good at throwing softballs at the panelists. I understand that this is a very political event, what with the LA Conservancy and all, but the whole thing was a boring, predictable circle jerk with sunshine being blown into, um, normally dark places, until a question was asked of Julius Shulman.
I don't remember what the question was, and it doesn't really matter, because Mr. Shulman didn't bother answering it. Maybe he was annoyed with Tim Wride (as I was) for addressing him as "Julius". Tim started the question with, "So Julius, I have to ask..." and immediately I was put off by his familiarity. In my mind I heard a smarmy, "So Julius, baby, J.J., how you doing?" Jeez man, have some respect. He is something like forty years older than you, an icon of modern photography, and you are definitely not one of his contemporaries, so call him Mr. Shulman unless he instructs you to do otherwise.
Mr. Shulman prefaced his answer by saying, "Democracy is a precious thing..." and the crowd, eager for nuggets of wisdom from this legend, sort of eased back to hear what was shaping up to be a lecture of sorts as he spoke of the forces that came together to put this book of photography together. They were jolted forward in their seats with, "But I think this book is crap." I heard the gasp go through the audience, but the panelists stayed silent and poker-faced. I looked around the room and the look on everyone's face told me we were wondering the same thing - what did he just say? Did he just say this book is crap?
Mr. Shulman really opened it up, he spoke of the editorial vision behind this book and questioned it. My spirits rose, could this actually become a lively discussion rather than a thinly-veiled publicity event? The panel was still stunned and silent as Mr. Shulman wrapped up his answer. No one lept to the book's defense and it must have been very uncomfortable up on that panel, but I was enjoying it immensely. Tim Wride tried to recover, but it was obvious he was trying to gently address the bomb that Mr. Shulman just dropped and work it into his carefully scripted question directed at Craig Krull.
After what seemed like another eternity of silence, Craig Krull leaned into the microphone and said, "That's not the question you said you were going to ask me." Oh excuse me, I thought we were going to a panel discussion, not to hear a series of prepared statements. Can't you at least pretend some of this is extemporaneous? Krull managed to get something blathery out, then he launched into his prepared, um, answer, "I do have something else to say..." I guess he had to get his prepared statement out there, even if it had very little to do with anything that had been said up to 20 minutes earlier. Wride then had a follow-up softball question and I don't have the exact words or remember to whom it was directed, but the gist of it was, "Let me jack you off..."
Wride did ask Ben Stiller a question, which he promptly ignored and said instead, "Julius, let me thank you for your ringing endorsement of this book." This was getting better every minute. Stiller went on to say that Julius Shulman is who he credits with his love for photography and Los Angeles. He tried to defend the editorial vision of the book, citing the process and noting some of his favorite pictures. To which Mr. Shulman replied, "This book is crud..." and referring to the book as, "... this so-called book is a Would Could Should." Then to the audience, "What is wrong with these people? That's your favorite picture? Big deal, everyone has steps, those in that picture need to be cleaned off." After the gasps subsided somewhat, he added, "Yech, that's crap."
Wride opened it up to audience to ask questions. The first two men who stood up didn't have questions, they just had long-winded, masturbatory commments. Blah blah blah, no one cares and the only thing that came through was how much these guys love the sound of their own voice. Finally, my friend got up and asked the first question, "Mr. Shulman, will you still be available and willing to sign copies of the book afterwards?" To which he replied, "Of course! I have many photographs in the book." Mr. Shulman did mention that he has another book coming out soon, and I'm sure he feels much better about the editorial vision of that book.
We went to the Arclight Gallery for the book signing. While waiting for them to set up, we took a look at some of the photographs displayed on all floors and also to take a look at the book. I was thinking of getting a copy of the book signed and giving it to my dad for Father's Day. But I was so disappointed with the print quality (among other things) that I decided not to. The Los Angeles Conservancy is getting a portion of the proceeds from the book, so I do feel bad about that, but no way I'm throwing down $80 for a book that Julius Shulman thinks is crap.