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42 Movies

This article was posted on my Facebook page, “40 Movies about photography every photographer should watch.” It’s a great list and I’m looking forward to seeing the ones I’ve missed.

Missing from the list is one of my personal favorite dramatic films, “Smoke,” starring Harvey Keitel.

Another film not on the list that I like for personal reasons is “Visual Acoustics: The Modernism of Julius Shulman.”

The reason I like this film, besides it being a good film, is best told in this story.

Cornelia and Roger Davidson ran an E3 transparency-developing lab out of their home in Brentwood, Calf.

Every day, Monday through Friday, the top professional’s in Los Angeles brought their film to the Davidson’s for processing. Cornelia would close and lock their front door at precisely 5pm. If you arrived at 5:01 you were out-of-luck (unless you called ahead of time in which case Cornelia would wait for you—but no one else was allowed in).

Every morning, Cornelia would open the door of their home at precisely 9am, and the photographer’s would file in to retrieve their work. At that time few, if any, L.A. photographers had assistants—that was still a NY thing. And even if they did have an assistant they would appear in person to pick up their film. Why? Because Roger Davidson was considered to be the top expert in color transparency processing, color balance, and exposure in L.A., and Cornelia was even better, though Roger got the accolades.

Both Roger and Cornelia would spend as much time as needed to go over each photographer’s film. They would advise the photographer, within 1/8 of a stop, how much exposure more or less to use, how many CC’s of color filtration they needed in front of their lens, what if any CB filter they needed for their lights, or how many cc’s of magenta or cyan needed to be added to their film during custom development.

While waiting for the 9am call, the photographers milled around in front of the Davidson’s home, swapping stories, talking about their latest gig, sharing gossip. Cornelia and Roger always took the photographers on a first come basis and the photographers were very careful to enter the house in the precise order in which they arrived. Woes betide anyone, including a newbie such as myself, who tried to go out of turn!

Among the photographers sipping a cup of coffee from Winchell’s Donuts in the early morning mist was Julius Shulman. The first time I saw him he was standing apart from the others on the edge of the sidewalk. Being all of 18 years old I thought he looked lonely standing there all by himself. So I walked over and struck up a conversation. After that whenever we saw each other at the Davidson’s we would chat about photography while waiting. I had no idea how famous and influential he was even then. Years later, when I did find out, I regretted not pursuing our friendship beyond the Davidson’s front lawn. Sometimes I wonder if my love for architectural photography didn’t come from our now forgotten conversations.

The photo of Julius Shulman is by Dan Winters. From “Lens Master,” Los Angeles Magazine, January 2009.

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