Vancouver’s Selwyn Pullan

Forret 3

Porter Residence, Vancouver, 1948

Selwyn Pullan is Vancouver’s most prolific architectural photographer of midcentury modern houses and buildings. He’s 86 now, and recently a collection of his photographs has been shown at the West Vancouver Museum (which make sense, since so much of Vancouver’s modern housing is located in that municipality across the harbour), and at the Charles H. Scott gallery. It’s titled Positioning the New. I grew up in Vancouver and it was strangely fascinating to see all of these familiar modern buildings collected together, and to realize that all of these familiar iconic photographs were actually produced by the same person. See stories on Pullan in Canadian Architect, the Vancouver Sun and the Charles H. Scott site (or click below for the Canadian Architect and Vancouver Sun articles, both worth reading). From the Sun article:

As a body of work, his photos of Vancouver’s modern architectural movement are a one-of-a-kind treasure trove, the primary photographic history of the heyday of Vancouver modernism. “Without question, he is about the most important architectural photographer we’ve had in this part of the world,” says heritage expert Don Luxton. “He had a great eye for determining the character of buildings. They really capture the essence of the era. Many, many, many of his photographs were published in magazines of the era — his style really characterized what was happening in the modern movement.”

Phillips Residence, Barry Downs, 1957

200904_positioning_the_new_01

Frederic Wood Theatre, UBC campus, Vancouver

From Canadian Architect magazine:

Selwyn Pullan: Positioning the New

From June 24 to September 20, 2008, the West Vancouver Museum is proud to present Selwyn Pullan: Positioning the New featuring a comprehensive survey of the work of Canadian photographer Selwyn Pullan. In a career spanning over 50 years, Pullan played a critical role in advancing West Coast modern architecture. He documented numerous residences and institutional projects for British Columbia’s leading architects in an intense and innovative period in the three decades following WWII.

Pullan studied photography at the Los Angeles Art Center (now the Art Center College of Design), graduating in 1950. Architectural photography, then a relatively new profession, had emerged in parallel to modernism and advances in architecture in North America during the late 1930s, and Pullan found his niche in this genre. Pullan’s photographs promoted the new style to a populace eager to embrace a modern way of living. His images were frequently included in photo essays in major design and architecture periodicals nation-wide.

Pullan was sought out specifically for his inventive composition and ability to contextualize new buildings. Pullan captured the spare aesthetics and spiritual essence of the work of architects such as Ron Thom, Fred Hollingsworth, Arthur Erickson and Barry Downs, among numerous others. Although primarily known for his architectural photography, Pullan also produced a substantial body of work depicting Vancouver’s urban landscape, portraiture, industry, fashion and design.

This retrospective demonstrates the photographer’s intimate connection to the development of modernism on the West Coast of Canada and highlights the social, economic and cultural forces that changed the face of Vancouver and the region during the postwar boom.

The West Vancouver Museum will be holding an opening reception on Tuesday, June 24th from 7:00pm to 9:00pm. For more information about the exhibition and other programs, please call 604.925.7295 or visit www.westvanmuseum.blogspot.com.

From The Vancouver Sun:

Photographer captures the character of B.C. architecture

Selwyn Pullan illustrates the imagination of the era in his art

John Mackie, Vancouver Sun

Published: Saturday, June 28, 2008

Selwyn Pullan isn’t as well known as west coast modern architects like Arthur Erickson, Ron Thom or Ned Pratt. But his photographs of their buildings played a big part in exposing their work to the world in the 1950s and ’60s, when their careers were taking off.

Many of the photos were published in magazines like Western Homes and Living, Canadian Homes and Canadian Interiors. Others were done for the architectural firms themselves. He even took photos for the Vancouver Sun, for $15 a pop.

Pullan is now 86, and has been living in quiet retirement for two decades.

But that’s about to change. This week, the West Vancouver Museum unveiled Selwyn Pullan: Positioning the New, an exhibition featuring more than 70 of Pullan’s vintage architectural photographs.

Pullan’s work is as cool as the buildings he shot. He captured the imagination of the era, the playfulness, the beauty. And he had a real knack for finding the angle which showed the architecture in its best light.

His shot of Ron Thom’s Forrest residence in West Vancouver makes it look like a living creature about to spring into the sky. His photo of the recently demolished Graham house by Horseshoe Bay is a study in how Arthur Erickson’s design blended into the steep site.

As a body of work, his photos of Vancouver’s modern architectural movement are a one-of-a-kind treasure trove, the primary photographic history of the heyday of Vancouver modernism.

“Without question, he is about the most important architectural photographer we’ve had in this part of the world,” says heritage expert Don Luxton.

“He had a great eye for determining the character of buildings. They really capture the essence of the era. Many, many, many of his photographs were published in magazines of the era — his style really characterized what was happening in the modern movement.”

Pullan was born and raised in Vancouver. He joined the navy during the Second World War, and got a veteran’s grant to attend school when he left the service. He chose to study photography at the Art Center in Los Angeles, “one of the most prominent art [schools] in the world.”

L.A. was a pretty happening place in the late 1940s, but after graduating in 1950, he returned to Canada.

“I was one of the ones who had to come back, because they paid the tuition [for me] to go down there,” explains Pullan. “Catch 22.”

As luck would have it, he caught on with Western Homes and Living magazine shortly after it launched, and it became his entrée to the modern world. But he was also a working commercial photographer who did all sorts of stuff.

“My main bag was photographic illustration,” he recounts.

“I did a lot of work for advertising agencies, BC Tel, lumber companies, annual reports, all that kind of stuff. I never did people. Mostly illustrations for ads. The building stuff was basically photographing for Western Homes, and photographing for the architects.”

Commercial photography wasn’t particularly lucrative, so he was careful about what he shot.

“I shot very few [frames], really. Because we were shooting on four by five film and packing 36 holders around was a lot of weight. You don’t just go bang, bang, bang. You looked at the place, you knew what you wanted, and you took a picture.”

He’s a man of few words, Selwyn Pullan, and not one given to blowing his own horn.

“I just did it,” he states. “It was a way of making a living, and I enjoyed it.”

jmackie@png.canwest.com

ONLINE: See a photo gallery of Selwyn Pullan’s work at vancouversun.com

Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

2 Responses to “Vancouver’s Selwyn Pullan”

  1. Jonathan Says:

    What an interesting reading. Thanks for sharing this.

  2. book review : selwyn pullan | vancouver modern residential blog Says:

    […] read more about selwyn pullan here at ouno design blog. […]

Leave a Reply