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California Captured: Mid-Century Modern Architecture, Marvin Rand
by Emily Bills, Sam Lubell, and Pierluigi Serraino ; photography by Marvin Rand

It’s hard to believe that it’s been almost 10 years since the passing of Marvin Rand—one of the founding members of SAH/SCC, a personal friend, and a tireless photographic chronicler of architecture—past and present. It’s also astonishing that, although Marvin published several monographic works on architects—Craig Ellwood (2002), Greene & Greene (2005), and Irving Gill (2006)—this is the first book dedicated to his archive of work on California. I’m considering this Volume 1 (more on that later).

The biographical text charts Marvin’s early influences (left-leaning multi-ethnic Boyle Heights), education (mentor Alvin Lustig and classmate Lou Danziger), and early career in his creative agency (advertising for General Lighting, annual reports for Welton Becket & Associates, covers forArts & Architecture). But it was meeting architectural historian and writer Esther McCoy in the early 1950s that changed everything for him. McCoy convinced Marvin (I just can’t use “Rand”) to commit to an architectural focus.

Marvin’s successful publishing history and long-term relationship with seminal architects may surprise even the most-aware fan of mid-century architecture, as the realm was dominated by Julius Shulman, about whom both Lubell and Serraino have written books.”  Curiously, Julius is mentioned only twice in the entire book, and his absence is conspicuous, particularly as Marvin’s work is referred to as “underrepresented” and “a virtually unknown treasure.” The first mention is a recollection from SAH/SCC Life Member John Reed, AIA, of seeing Marvin working in Julius’ darkroom; the authors state the nature of the relationship between the two was unknown to family and friends and not acknowledged in the Rand archives. Curiouser. In the essay after the portfolio of works, the authors address how differently each photographer regarded his public image and legacy. Pointedly, the authors describe Marvin’s photographic approach as “grounded in a strong graphic composition, a focus on structure over lifestyle.” They are implicitly comparing the two photographers.

Ah, the portfolio! It’s filled with sumptuous black-and-white photographs showing Marvin’s graphics background through shadow and pattern, along with unexpected and artistic viewpoints of familiar structures, such as LACMA (Pereira, 1965), Capitol Records (Becket, 1956), and the Salk Institute (Kahn, 1963). There is intimacy in the 300,000-square-foot Stanford Medical Center (Stone, 1959) and majesty at the neighborhood Tiny Naylors (Honnold, 1949).

Why Volume 1? The Marvin I knew was, as described, “ever curious.” He was quick to adopt digital technology (in his mid-70s!) and kept up with young architects and designers, who actively sought him out late into his career. “He has only so many photos left in him,” designer Michele Saee told me, “and I want as many to be of my work as possible.” There is much more to see of Marvin’s California—as well as his view of the rest of the world. I eagerly await Volume 2.

Phaidon; 2018; 240 pages; hardcover; $59.95.




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