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…