Forgotten Photographer Marvin Rand Documented Los Angeles Modernism Like No One Else
A recent book from Phaidon delves into the photographer’s little-known contributions to chronicling Modernist architecture in his home state, California.
Marvin Rand is one of the best architectural photographers you’ve never heard of. When it comes to the documentation of Mid-Century buildings, the work of photographers like Ezra Stoller and Julius Shulman often dominate the narrative. California Captured (Phaidon) hopes to change that, delving into Rand’s archives and bringing his work—and his love of his native Los Angeles—to light.
Spanning more than five decades of L.A. architectural history, Rand’s images capture the works of Modernist greats like William Pereira, Craig Ellwood, and Frank Lloyd Wright.
Rand’s rediscovery was a serendipitous one. His complete archive of more than 50,000 negatives and transparencies was sitting in an office building in Santa Monica up until a few years ago. In 2012, Rand’s daughter reached out to curator and author Sam Lubell (best known for his “Never Built” books and exhibitions) and introduced him to the archives. The process of going through those negatives was like rediscovering a forgotten piece of Los Angeles history, says Lubell.
The son of a furniture maker and clothing designer, Rand studied photography at Los Angeles City College prior to a post as an aerial photographer during World War II. After the war, he enrolled at Art Center College of Design, his background of studying both photography and design providing him a unique perspective with the lens. “He really respected it. He loved architecture, but he also loved L.A.,” says Lubell, who co-wrote the book alongside Emily Bills and Pierluigi Serraino.
The combination of Rand’s sharp eye for design and his knowledge of the city made for photos that stood out in their clean simplicity, a quality that often contrasted with arresting graphic composition. His photography let the architecture “speak for itself,” says Lubell.
For instance, in one photo of Peter Berkey III House, designed by Lutah Maria Riggs, the subjects are artfully framed within the shadows cast by the overhead beams of the home. Another image featuring the Dorothy Chandler Pavilion highlights the hall’s maze-like staircases and many chandeliers, shot from an angle straight out of an Escher optical illusion. The crisp lines, experimental angles, and interplay between shadow and light were all hallmarks of his work.
Rand, an honorary member of the American Institute of Architects, practiced photography until his death in 2009, documenting the progression of architecture in Southern California. As for why he never quite reached the fame of his peers, Lubell explained, “He just wasn’t a big promoter, he didn’t really have that kind of personality.”
However, according to Lubell, his archive depicts a fuller picture of how L.A.’s distinct architectural legacy shaped architecture across the globe. “There were only so many people taking pictures of architecture in L.A. as it was really coming into its own, Rand catalogued a lot of that,” says Lubell. “He loved L.A., and it showed.”
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