Photograph of architectural details

James Florio Wins the Julius Shulman Institute Excellence in Photography Award

The celebrated architectural photographer receives the field’s highest accolade and exhibits his On Light, Time, and Materiality series at Los Angeles’s The BAG gallery.

When flipping through the pages of Metropolis, you’ll likely see a photographer’s name attributed to every published image. Architects rely heavily on a select group of these unsung heroes to masterfully capture their latest projects and communicate their visions. Names like Hélène Binet and Berenice Abbott have become synonymous with this prowess: the ability to depict the ephemeral built environment in a way that can express its mood, materiality, and depth. In some cases, these visuals go beyond physical reality and can bring us into the realms of fantasy and speculation. Many of these practitioners—Colorado-based James Florio among them—have turned architectural photography into an autonomous creative practice, becoming highly sought-after artists in their own right.  

photograph of architectural details
photograph of rock formation on beach

Named after the late Los Angeles-based photographer that famously shot the city’s midcentury Modernist Case Study Houses in the 1960s, the Julius Shulman Institute at Woodbury University was founded in 1995 to support the burgeoning field. Each year, the foundation bestows its prestigious Excellence in Photography Award to promising talents pushing the practice forward. Past honorees have included Catherine Opie, Livia Corona Benjamin, and Iwan Baan. Recognized for his meticulous and thoughtful approach, Florio is this year’s recipient.  

“Time is a big element in the making of [his] photos, reflected in the architecture he chooses to show us,” states Barbara Bestor, renowned architect and executive director of the foundation. “The seasons, the weather, the geography, and the light play as important a role as the built environment itself.”  

photograph of interior of a rock-walled room

Whether photographing a specific space or documenting the changing tides of nature, Florio enacts a slow process. Rather than adopt the standard shoot first and edit later method, he often travels back to a site multiple times before taking his first strategically-positioned photo. He’ll then come back, again and again, to document the locale in different weather conditions. Florio alternates between analog and digital film but always creates large-scale prints and images that reveal the full scope of his in-depth investigations.  

Coinciding with the announcement of the accolade, a new exhibition at Los Angeles gallery The BAG highlights the photographer’s seminal On Light, Time, and Materiality series. Pulled from his Radical Logic book—developed with noted architecture, curator, and writer Iker Gil—the collection surveys Boston and Madrid-based Ensamble Studio’s most iconic projects. As evident in the SGAE Central Office in Santiago de Compostela, The Truffle in Costa da Morte, and Structures of Landscape for Tippet Rise Art Center in Montana projects, the firm often applies a site-specific approach. It adheres to natural principles, which is something Florio also champions.

On view next to works by previous Julius Shulman Institute Excellence in Photography Award recipients Lee Bey and Victoria Sambunaris, Florio’s prints take the viewer on a journey through time and space. The exhibition is on view through June 3. 

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