Philip Johnson Naked In the Glass House

Philip Johnson in the Glass House

Philip Johnson in the Glass House

Be Damned Charlie Rose

One night I was sitting just inside my porch on Lake George. I was watching Charlie Rose interview Philip Johnson on tv in 1998.

I loved listening to Philip's logic his tone his grace his quiet demeanor when Charlie went after him for being a Nazi sympathizer. It was very unnecessary, but Charlie wanted a moment...but didn't get it. Philip danced gracefully around the attack and the rest and past is history.

But what lured me in was the nagging question, why I had not photographed Philip Johnson one of the legendary architects of the 20th century?

Up to this point in my career, I have had the pleasure of being able to photograph almost any cultural personality I chose to pursue!

Here now I was thinking, 'Jesus I have to meet this man before he dies...90 something’. How remiss I would have been not to have included someone so significant so influential/iconic, almost otherworldly at the time. My immediate judicious step was to call my friend Richard Meier. Richard is a protective sort of guy. His world is his world…But he has always been generous with me. So he made the connection for me. I called and set up an appointment…fortunately, I found out later that Philip and his partner David knew my work and thought of me as the next Irving Penn…or so they generously said. Well, of course, I never became the next …but it was a subtle stroking that I appreciated immensely since Irving was one of my photography heroes. So in December of that year, I headed up to New Canaan Ct on one of the most gorgeous days. It was crisp fresh and perfect for my camera sans lights…

Glass House - New Canaan, CT

Glass House - New Canaan, CT

I remember taking the train from Grand Central. I entered the station at an early morning hour. For a moment I felt I had walked into a frame of the history of photography: the light streaming in through the windows of the station looking just like that classic Lewis Hine image. Geoff Dyer’s “The On-Going Moment” warned me of these engagements, where you are in the present but really a link to the past. I am on the train thinking about that Lewis Hine…thinking about Philip and what I must do to make something memorable something that people can talk about, something that means that I made a memorable moment with a memorable person.

I always enter a space wondering if this is the time that matters…all photographs matter. There is an inspiration that works. it works like a wand guiding light for your eyes to live and see the moment, to seize the moment. It is almost like asking your camera to do something extra for you.

My Pentax 6x7 has seen so many moments that you sort of ask if the camera can pull off one more dance move…a capture that you weren't prepared for but suddenly it is there. The moment is an experience that comes to life and becomes not merely an experience but something you have dreamed of seeing your whole life as a photographer. It is a ridiculous notion but any photographer worth anything, really does have that inner heart that speaks to the moment. When entering in the experience as if you are in control, what happens is that you and your subject marry an idea to get there. It is this sort of an orchestra conductor’s moment where you take control and something that just magically becomes the photograph. Think about how boring it might be if you take the same idiotic photograph everyday…but instead made a rubik dance between you the light the space your camera your subject. Faster and faster all the squares move around until everything comes to a standstill and you say; “Philip …” don’t move!”. You know that that is the image that is the dream. It is of course only for you. Nobody else loves the moment as you do. It is why one becomes a photographer to show the rabbit pop out of the magician’s hat! One day with luck, you will show it to everyone out there and have that aha moment, not for yourself but that aha moment to a discerning audience! Ok, So now I arrive...

Walking into the Glass House for the first time, is kind of like entering a cathedral of architecture. The House is almost folklore for the second half of the 20th century architecture. You breathe the past the present and the future in one inhale, your exhale is nirvana.. Philip sits at his desk engaged in a jousting match with Herbert Muschamp: The former NY Times Architectural Critic.

It turns out they had been discussing me. Philip and Herbert seemed to be bandying my name about like a shuttlecock. Philip hung up and said, “ Tell me, Mr. Schulman, where shall we begin?

For the next 3-4 hours, we raced through all of the structures on the property. Philip outpaced me in every way.

He was marvelously striding as if floating on clouds, I was taking deep breaths hoping not to show my immediate need for assisted living. I was huffing and puffing, taking this and that pic.

But from every word we shared about Frank Gehry, Zaha Hadid, Rem Koolhaas and dozens of other architects…i was getting an education.

It was a life experience, a moment only the camera and memory would share with me.

The apex of the day was certainly in the Sculpture Gallery. Light speaks to photographers as light speaks to flora…we grow with every movement of light in a space of time.

We entered the space…I knew instantly that this was my space my moment. I made like a spinning top twirling down the steps to know if my mind’s eye was right. Shadows were dancing everywhere…. I raced back up the steps and had Philip stand in his/my light…god’s actually but …better, nature’s light.

I yelled To him, “Stop! where you are, face the light…I asked him. He was totally bewildered, but he obeyed, finally …and “click”.


I went to him and grabbed his hand and said thank you. He was a bit stunned that the session was over.

I spun around and for one second I thought my light had a bit of a link to Hine’s Grand Central Station…a link to the “On Going Moment”.

Philip suddenly remembered that when we met I had told him that I had a special request.

He asked me to share the request. We strolled over to the pool in front of his Glass House. I stared into 90 years of a life lived.

I said, ”Philip, I want to shoot you naked”. This was a WOW! Factor. He suddenly looked like a cherub with a dream in his mind. His visage of 90 transformed into a 4 year old in an instant.

At that moment his partner David drove up. Philip told me that he needed to speak with David first.

After a brief chat, he came back to me and said he couldn’t do it. He thought it was the most amazing request. I tried to persuade him that Philip Johnson naked in the Glass House would be amazing!

’I don’t want to see your private parts, just the idea of the naked creator in the Glass House would be epic, I begged’.

“David wants to protect my legacy”.

I begged some more to no avail.

David later drove me back to the train station.

He said Philip probably had the best time with you out of all of his photography sessions!! “You are probably our present day Irving Penn, but I just cannot allow Philip to be shot naked in the Glass House…he mumbled with a smile, “ Philip Johnson naked in the Glass House….”

Yes, I could write another 10,000 words on that day…


Arata Isozaki

Arata Isozaki: 2019 Pritzker Prize Recipient

Izosaki at the Guggenheim Museum- New York, NY

Izosaki at the Guggenheim Museum- New York, NY

Hold on to your space suits!

Have you ever felt the full force of tiny asteroids the size of diamonds flying with full force pelting your face into full shock...somewhere between a stoned death and/or a cryogenic freeze?

In 2003 After flying 15 hours from New York to Tokyo I was all jacked up to have an amazing photography experience shooting some of the most exciting voices in the architectural world?

Aside: A scary fun thought, all of them have been awarded the Pritzker Prize!

Ok back to my nightmare! I have arrived in Japan to photograph Tadao Ando, Toyo Ito, SANAA, (Kazuyo Sejima,and Ryue Nishizawa) Shigeru Ban and Arata Isozaki. I was in Tokyo to shoot for my book, “Portraits of the New Architecture”.

What a trip I imagined!!!!!!!!! Portraits of these great faces, and an imaginary escape ala Ian Fleming’s “Thrilling Cities” through the brightest and darkest spots of Tokyo. I wanted to find the aforementioned architects best examples of architectural design in Tokyo. Yes I could have traveled the earth claiming their most famous most known works, but making this about one trip one city one moment is truly better for me than following the myth of Ando or Brancusi; walking the land across nations to learn about Architecture or Sculpture.

Moca - Los Angeles, CA.

Moca - Los Angeles, CA.

I wanted immersion.

A funny thing happens to me when I travel for work,there is an electric gene that goes off and flips me a visual thought about photography. Nothing is off limits; lying on my back, camera dangling out of taxis, trains, planes and beyond to experience a new perspective.

For those who travel and those who don’t, there is the notion that we need to walk the streets endlessly to discover, ergo to know how a city breathes.

So, I begin racing through the streets to capture Tokyo with whatever my camera will allow.

I arrive at my hotel, a non distinctive place to rest my head.

Before I can breathe a note of joy, I call my first subject, SANAA.

“Sorry they are not available”. Hold on, what the &%$#@ effing are you talking about? I flew here just for them a (mini lie) and their schedule has suddenly changed?

Ok so now I hang up and dial one through six.

Looking back it is like being in a cloud of some drug induced confusion. Everyone of the architects changed their schedules at the same time?????.

So I played Sun Tzu in my mind.

I had a plan, I wasn’t going to allow for a mental breakdown to diffuse the larger plan.

Jet lag gripped me ...if I change time zones by an hour my body my mind becomes dis- functional by minutes, hours and years.

So after a delightful tasty collection of a sushi, sashimi tasty delight I went to sleep with a new attitude.

I awoke to an everything mattered mantra, every waking moment was a “visual feast” wife’s line!

I walked, rode the train, walked and rode the train some more.

At the end of the first day, I collected my inner Caesar., ”Veni,Vidi,Vici…”.

I telephoned each of my portrait moments.

“Hey I am here for just you...give me 10 and out of your lives...and in my book!

Soulful responses poured out, a thousand apologies!

Everyone gave me the time that is emblematic of Japanese courtesy.

But why I am writing this blog, is because I felt I needed to share one of the more embraceable days as a photographer…photographing (iso), Arata Isozaki.

My last day, my last session made me think about something larger than my mere images.

A photographer’s life is defined by the experience at hand.

I arrived at “Iso’s studio.

Arriving in the Roppongi District of Tokyo was pretty electric. It was a bit like Times Square with a phallic Mori Tower flailing in the center.

But Iso’s studio is calm and discreet.

Warmly greeted, we began our sparring as almost all portrait sessions have a bit of a dance in them. I could write/speak for hours about the dance of a photographer’s session!

We spoke about many things...everything from the perception of light by a Japanese Architect and how that differs from a Western Architect. We playfully critiqued famous architects in general...some great zingers but also so many shares about architects revered. It was an exchange of casual intellectualism.

A short while in, he gets a call, he must speak to a client.

Palau Sant Jordi- Barcelona, Spain

Palau Sant Jordi- Barcelona, Spain

He apologizes, but then hands me a monograph on Herbert Bayer. it is a terrific edition that fortunately or not, I had to read for over an hour. To keep me occupied while I was reading Iso also shared a delicacy from where he was raised. It was some awful barely edible type of sweet potato.

But I survived and he returned and our dance card wasn’t up.

I proceeded to attempt to make a portrait that pushed the boundaries of light and camera. I wanted to explore what color and light could look light in a 10’x12’ office space.

Yes you will have to go to my website to see what I achieved. For me, it was a moment. For photography? It is what it is!

The whole experience lasted about 4 hours. It was much longer than the original 10 minute intended program.

But what separates this moment from the other 5000 portraits, is that Isozaki generously invited me to dinner at a British private club.

We with 2 of his assistants arrived at the club. He pulled me aside and told me that traveling alone can be trying and lonely, so he wanted to share a couple of things.

First: he wanted me to experience an exhibition of Corbusier paintings, drawings and sculpture. It was a mini retrospective. We collected a glass of wine and I listened to him share his thoughts on Corbusier, and the art itself. If you like or even appreciate architecture, you can bet that the time walking through the gallery was simply stunning and amazingly stimulating. The fact that it was a sharing experience is such a rare treat. Needless to say it was great!

Then he topped this generosity off when we sat down to dinner. We were on about the 20 something floor...he said, “I didn’t want you to be homesick for New York. I wanted you to have a New York experience in Tokyo in case you were homesick”. So there we were gazing over the city lights as I do in New York City.

Most of you might know that I am older than Methuselah...but it was truly a tender moment.

After a great meal, and more conversation we said our goodbyes. His assistants took me to some club which was for anyone younger than I was.

After awaking the next day I thought how I have traveled more than half the world, yet every once in awhile a true spirit makes one day out of a million a bit of heaven.

Isosaki’s Studio

Isosaki’s Studio