Marvin Rand captures south California’s unique modernism

Los Angeles was a kind of utopian dream in the mid-twentieth century. The sunny southern Californian city had attracted an open-minded set – experimental filmmakers, independent artists, writers and patrons of design came here for it offered freedom of expression. This coupled with urban growth and industrial expansion led to a period of exceptional architectural innovation.

Marvin Rand was there to capture this spirit. Throughout the post-war period, the native Angeleno photographed the buildings of Richard Neutra, Craig Ellwood, John Lautner, Louis Kahn, Frank Lloyd Wright and Rudolph Schindler. He also played a crucial role in helping shape the mid-century Californian modern style, as explored in a new book by Phaidon California Captured.

Rand’s career began in advertising in the 1950s, and it was his friend the design historian Esther McCoy who encouraged him to venture into architectural photography. He enjoyed a close friendship with many of these architectural greats including Craig Ellwood. Some of Rand’s best work includes Ellwood’s most celebrated projects.

The 240 illustrations in California Captured were chosen by the authors Emily Bills, Sam Lubell and Pierluigi Serraino who spent over five years analysing some 20,000 Rand photographs. Together they tell of a photographer who is an artist with his lens. Rand created abstractions out of lines and structures. He framed the clean and clear modernist structures with striking clarity carefully staging the buildings against a backdrop of LA’s dreamy, washed out, vast, open sky, sometimes the blue ocean in the backdrop. Ellwood was fond of sports cars and Rand brilliantly includes these symbols of modernity within the frame as an extension of the architecture.

He photographed high-profile projects like the Salk Institute and LAX Theme building, but also lesser-famed architects and more modest creations such as Douglas Honnold’s drive-in Tiny Naylor, shot at night skilfully abstracting light and shadow. California Captured reveals Marvin Rand as a significant chronicler of post-war Los Angeles and some of America’s greatest mid-century modern architecture.

Nargess Banks

All pictures © courtesy of the Estate of Marvin Rand

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Design Talks is published by Spinach Design
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