inkwell.vue.147 : Eames Demetrios: An Eames Primer
permalink #26 of 135: Eames Demetrios (eamesdemetrios) Sun 21 Apr 02 11:04
    
,Oh there's a great story about how the Eameses used to drive Fords
until...

But I'll let Eames tell it.>

Talk about pressure, fom!

Well, the essence of the story (which stems from a letter that appears
in the Library of Congress show) is that Charles and Ray did drive a
classic old Ford until the early 1950s and then became a bit distrubed
at all the bells and whistles that whistles that Ford was adding.  So
they sent a letter to Henry Ford II himself asking that Ford go back to
a basic kind of black, specifically Charles said, "We believe in the
use of standard production models" and he went to ask for an
"anonymous" convertible with hardly any logos.

The letter itself is extremely charming and direct (so much so that
Donald Albrecht started his essay on Charles and Ray with it) and
really captures alot about they responded to good solutions by others. 
Because they themselves did not design products and hand them to the
manufacturer to figure out how to make, instead they figured out the
process as well, they respected an achievement as complete as Ford's
and were troubled to see it give in to yearly trend instead of solid
solution.
  
inkwell.vue.147 : Eames Demetrios: An Eames Primer
permalink #27 of 135: (fom) Sun 21 Apr 02 15:35
    
That Ford story really speaks to me because I remember so well when the 
Fords got ugly. My friend Judy Crippen's mom had one of the kind with the 
huge thick frosting-like glob of chrome that draped over the top, and I 
remember being horrified at the design. (I was very into car design around 
age 9-12 or so, for some reason.)

Sorry about the pressure! Now could you tell the one about... 
  
inkwell.vue.147 : Eames Demetrios: An Eames Primer
permalink #28 of 135: Eames Demetrios (eamesdemetrios) Sun 21 Apr 02 15:58
    
It's okay, pressure is my middle name.
  
inkwell.vue.147 : Eames Demetrios: An Eames Primer
permalink #29 of 135: Eames Demetrios (eamesdemetrios) Sun 21 Apr 02 16:03
    
The other thing about your comment on "when Fords got ugly" is that
design in general parlance often means superficial styling choices,
when I think most of us in this conference (and certainly Charles and
Ray) thought of it as something much deeper: the anonymous but valuable
and wonderful Ford of the 40s, rather than the marginally different
Fords of later on. 

By the way, I am no expert on Fords of that era, but it is possible
that the anonymous design intuitively reflected the intrinsic needs and
constraints of the design in a way that a
different-for-the-sake-of-being-a-little-bit-different design never
could.
  
inkwell.vue.147 : Eames Demetrios: An Eames Primer
permalink #30 of 135: Bob Rossney (rbr) Sun 21 Apr 02 23:35
    
There are many things about Charles and Ray and their work that amaze me.
But one fact leaves me gobsmacked:  750,000 slides.  Charles (I presume it
was Charles; I've never seen or read anything that indicated that Ray ever
even held a camera, though I'm sure she must have) took three-quarters of
a million photographs over the course of his career.

That's a life's work in itself.  Never mind the furniture and the 
buildings and the exhibits and the films.  That's an amazing volume of 
work.

And so many of them are so beautiful.  I think Charles really understood
how a photograph can cut what something looks like loose from what it is,
so that you can see what it *really* is without your perception being cut
off by what you *think* it is.  There's the great image of the spools of
thread in the House of Cards, and the fabulous aerial photograph of the
speedboat in "The SX-70," and the picture of the breakfast table with the
grapefruit and coffee and pats of butter that probably made it into
"House: After Five Years of Living."  They're all so rich and tactile and 
inviting, full of color and complexity and yet, really, perfectly 
ordinary.

Charles had a remarkable philosophy of photography.  He was very keyed 
into the tangibility of a photograph, the way that an image becomes 
something you can hang onto with your mind and manipulate and arrange and 
juxtapose.  He completely drank Edwin Land's Kool-Aid.  I go back again 
and again to "The SX-70" because it's one of the profoundest statements 
about technology and culture that I've ever seen anywhere, as well as 
being a joyous celebration of the beauty of the image, as well as being
a kind of populist manifesto, as well as being, well, an advertisement.
But all of that enthusiasm sprang from Charles's love of making and, I
suspect, *having* photographs.

I guess I have two different questions here.  One is somewhat general and 
open-ended:  what can you tell us -- at least, what springs to mind -- 
about the role that photography played in the Eamses' work?  And the 
second's at least a little more specific:  how on earth can anyone deal 
with that many slides?
  
inkwell.vue.147 : Eames Demetrios: An Eames Primer
permalink #31 of 135: Eames Demetrios (eamesdemetrios) Mon 22 Apr 02 09:41
    
I'll answer this in parts:

Charles often said that photography was a way of having one's keep and
eating it too.  You had the pleasure of the moment and the pleasure of
sharing it as well.

to me the key story for all that is the story of when Charles' sister
Adele (who lived in Mississippi) called the office to tell Charles that
a major hurricane had hit her town.  Houses floating down main street,
huge trees uprooted, an unbelievable spectacle, but Adele and her
family were OK.  Thus assured, Charles said. "Yes, but did you get
pictures."

That spirit of getting pictures was behind so many things at the
office--capturing birthdays, even  many of the  films.

It was also part of the design process.  Not just for sales.  Dick
Donges at the office said that once Charles looked through the camera
at a prototype he could say exactly what was wrong with it.  And that
was not just a matter of zooming in on flaws or something, but really I
think it helped him get a fresh look at things.

He felt that one of the hardest things inthe world to get was a second
"first look"--to keep that freshness.  I think the photographt was
part of that.

It was also a way to celebrate and to take notes and to honor things.
  
inkwell.vue.147 : Eames Demetrios: An Eames Primer
permalink #32 of 135: Bob Rossney (rbr) Mon 22 Apr 02 10:27
    
There is something so, I don't know, *Midwestern* about Charles's approach
to photography.  Plain, simple, useful, unpretentious, straight-up.  There's
a whole tradition in photographic arts of getting the one big image, whether
it's Ansel Adams photographing Half-Dome or Peter Stackpole shooting the
Bay Bridge or even Edward Weston's peppers.  Charles was about getting all
the little images.  His photography is about noticing.

And this turns me toward something that I want to explore in some depth,
if it's possible to without getting too mawkish about it.

There are a couple of really pronounced lines of postwar design.  There's
the Bauhaus/International approach, with its pretensions to being honest,
proletarian, and unadorned, like the Mies van der Rohe chair that looks
like a couple of black slabs bolted together.  There's the Googie 
approach, which is mostly about having cheap fun, and there's the 
postmodern approach, which is basically Googie with a theory.  It seems to 
me that both of these approaches to design were an attempt to deal with
the explosion of need that followed the war:  make it new, make it big, 
make it cheap, and make it fast.  And in so doing, of course, they became,
as all ways of thinking do, things unto themselves.

One thing that seems to unite all of these designers, I feel -- whether 
we're talking about Le Corbusier or Michael Graves or even Frank Gehry --
is that they clearly love *design*.  They love the beauty of the finished
form, the built environment.

But they don't seem to like the real world very much.  The world is messy
and complicated.  It clutters up their designs with its incessant demands.
Think of the Mies-like chairs in Jacques Tati's _Playtime_:  the running
joke is that whenever anyone sits on one, it makes a farting sound, and
when ever someone sitting on one gets up and walks off, the chair
reinflates with a sort of popping sucking sound.  As they say on the
Simpsons, it's funny 'cause it's true.

I think that Charles and Ray looked at the world from almost the opposite
direction.  They knew that nature bats last.  But this wasn't a challenge
to them, something that they sought to insulate themselves from:  it was
something they embraced.  It was a constraint.  "Design addresses itself 
to a need," Charles liked to say, and the real world, really, comprises 
the set of all needs.

Charles's photographs reveal -- embody, even -- a deep love of the real
world.  The real world, what Joan Didion called "the shifting
phantasmagoria that is our actual experience," it races by with
unbelievable speed and finality.  Charles's photographs were a way of
catching bits of it as it passed.

This is why "Goods" is such a deeply moving film.  It's not even a film,
really; it's just a slide show.  Just a bunch of pictures of ordinary
things.  Bolts of fabric.  Boxes of chalk.  But how beautiful these
ordinary things are!  How much we desire them, simple though they are:
their texture and patterns, the way they fit together, the way they sit
and catch the light just so.  The photographs in "Goods" are magical,
because they are suffused with that desire.  It's not the acquisitive
desire, the hunger for having more possessions:  it's the love of life.  
You can see in these images (to steal a phrase from Richard Powers) just
how worth celebrating it is to be able to say anything at all.

And of course by the time "Goods" was made into a film, Charles was a 
memory.  The images and words in this film that celebrate life with a kind 
of deep cheer were uttered by one who had left it.  It's a phenomenal 
elegy.

(Here now I expect Eames's response:  "Uh, could you rephrase that as a 
question?)
  
inkwell.vue.147 : Eames Demetrios: An Eames Primer
permalink #33 of 135: Linda Castellani (castle) Mon 22 Apr 02 17:05
    

What I'm curious about, Eames, is at what point in your life did you 
realize what a treasure trove your grandparents represented?  Were they 
alive well into your life?  What was your relationship like?  Did they 
launch into stories about designing things, and if they did, how did you 
react?  Were you bored?  Intrigued?  Dismissive?
  
inkwell.vue.147 : Eames Demetrios: An Eames Primer
permalink #34 of 135: Eames Demetrios (eamesdemetrios) Mon 22 Apr 02 18:22
    
>And the  second's at least a little more specific:  how on earth
 >can anyone deal with that many slides?

Well, during Charles and Ray's lifetimes, there were as many as 3 or 4
people focussed on the stills archives with other passing through. 
Then in the last 5 years of Ray's life, she was focussed on the stills
archive and the creation of the Eames Design book.  She had help (a lot
of help) from the Library of Congress which had a few employees
helping during that period PREPARE it for acquisition.  Ray died in
1988.  The Library has processed all 150,000 Manuscript items, but is
still in the process of processing the pictures.  

Though the library is methodical and therefore moves deliberately, the
fact is that it is a lot of stuff and it takes a while to do right.

We have about 30--40,000 images close at hand, and even THAT is a lot
of effort.
  
inkwell.vue.147 : Eames Demetrios: An Eames Primer
permalink #35 of 135: Eames Demetrios (eamesdemetrios) Mon 22 Apr 02 20:27
    
Bob's comments on Goods are so on point that they defy a normal
reaction (and, yes, it is hard to find the question--on the other hand
not everything has to be a question), but it made me want to add that
the working title for that slide show was Good Goods.  These were goods
in their original packaging.

Alex Funke, who worked at the office, told me in an interview, that in
choosing what went into the sldie show, they asked: "What are goods
which . . . which define--which . . . which by their very packaged
quality define the goodness that’s within, ‘cause that what the--what
it was about, the goodness within, the fact that if you had this
beautiful ball of brown, tarry marlin and it’s all--it’s still got this
beautiful wrapping that smells good and it feels good, and . . . but .
. . that in itself is a wonderful thing. And then the fact that you’re
gonna be able to pull a marlin off and then and sew something with it
or worm and tussle  when you’re making a shroud or whatever, that has
the future potential, but the thing itself has potential, sort of,
encapsulated within it."

But it was also a connection between the person who physically made it
and the person who opened it. Again, finding the human part of
manufacture.
  
inkwell.vue.147 : Eames Demetrios: An Eames Primer
permalink #36 of 135: Eames Demetrios (eamesdemetrios) Mon 22 Apr 02 20:28
    <scribbled>
  
inkwell.vue.147 : Eames Demetrios: An Eames Primer
permalink #37 of 135: Eames Demetrios (eamesdemetrios) Mon 22 Apr 02 22:14
    
>What I'm curious about, Eames, is at what point in your life did >you
realize what a treasure trove your grandparents >represented?  Were
they alive well into your life?  What was >your relationship like?  Did
they launch into stories about >designing things, and if they did, how
did you react?  Were you >bored?  Intrigued?  Dismissive?

Well, I was 16 when Charles died (summer between Junior and Senior
year in high school) and it was especially sad because I was going to
intern at the office the NEXT summer like my older sisters had, so that
did not happen.  He and I always had a special connection, he was
always curious about the little movies I was making.  The 901 space was
magical to visit.

We visited them or they visited us in SF. Many special memories.  When
I moved to LA in 1985 Ray was still alive and she and I spent a
wonderful couple of years getting to know each other adult to adult. 
She met my oldest son when he was 9 days old (she died 3 weeks later).

So we were close, but I certainly didn't fully understand their
stature as a kid, we just had fun.  I remember photographing spiderwebs
with Charles and dew in the meadow.  Ray and I would go to the movies
alot.  The 901 space was incredible for a kid.  And until I was 6 I
though everyone got a little film festival when they visited their
grandparents.

It wasn't until after Ray died and I felt that I needed to make my
film about the 901 space that I started to appreciate them more from
what you might call the historic perspective and realize that might
have a special insight.

At first I restored the videos and continued with my own filmmaking. 
After I released a couple of features in 1992, I became intrigued by
the interactive potential of Powers of Ten.  I also had begun the video
oral history project by then (2 days after Ray died we had a video
guestbook for friends at a gathering).  And things became full time by
then.

Powers of Ten Interactive CD-ROM which I worked on from 1994 to 1998
was the project whioch showed me I might be able to connect my own work
to the Eames Office.  Though it is based on their classic film, for
better or worse it represents my vision.

And since then the process has continued . . .  websites, books, a
gallery, lots of fun stuff.
  
inkwell.vue.147 : Eames Demetrios: An Eames Primer
permalink #38 of 135: Eames Demetrios (eamesdemetrios) Mon 22 Apr 02 22:16
    
Still getting the hang of it: does scribbled mean I deleted it?  I
figured it might--36 was just a repeat of 35.  I accidentally posted it
twice.
  
inkwell.vue.147 : Eames Demetrios: An Eames Primer
permalink #39 of 135: (fom) Mon 22 Apr 02 23:02
    
Yes, scribbled means you deleted. Posting twice happens a lot when people 
are using the Engaged (web-based) interface.

castle, that was a great question (or series of questions actually). And 
Eames, great answers. Can you relate any special memories you have of 
being a child playing -- with toys, in particular -- with Charles and/or 
Ray? I am thinking of those cardboard boxes, for example -- and did you 
get to play with "The Toy"? Which of the films were your favorites when you 
were a child?

I would like to read a whole book of memories of Charles and Ray.
  
inkwell.vue.147 : Eames Demetrios: An Eames Primer
permalink #40 of 135: Scott Underwood (esau) Mon 22 Apr 02 23:10
    
Yeah, that happens. And, yes, scribbled is erased.

I'm intrigued about the films. I wonder if there are some stories
behind the creation of some of them. "Blacktop" is such a beautiful
piece -- where was it shown originally? Who made the call to document
Polaroid's new camera so fully (and, I assume, expensively) in "SX-70."
Where did "Toccata for Toy Trains" come from?
  
inkwell.vue.147 : Eames Demetrios: An Eames Primer
permalink #41 of 135: Scott Underwood (esau) Mon 22 Apr 02 23:11
    
fom slipped (that means she typed her answer and posted it while I was still
typing mine).
  
inkwell.vue.147 : Eames Demetrios: An Eames Primer
permalink #42 of 135: Linda Castellani (castle) Mon 22 Apr 02 23:42
    

Thanks for the details, Eames.  Were there other grandchildren, too?
  
inkwell.vue.147 : Eames Demetrios: An Eames Primer
permalink #43 of 135: Eames Demetrios (eamesdemetrios) Tue 23 Apr 02 00:40
    
Yes, there were other grandchildren (and there still are!).  I have 3
sisters and a brother and, though I am definitely the most involved,
they are all supporters of what we are doing.

My older siblings got to do a really cool thing of swinging from a
rope into a big stack of boxes in the studio of the Eames House.  Great
pictures of it too.  Charles did a few times and almost wiped out the
last time. (that's why it was the last time...)
  
inkwell.vue.147 : Eames Demetrios: An Eames Primer
permalink #44 of 135: Eames Demetrios (eamesdemetrios) Tue 23 Apr 02 00:55
    
BTW, thanks for connecting me to the jargon--it always helps anytime
you are somewhere new.

Blacktop  really came from admiring the soap bubbles on the pavement
of the Westminster School across Washington from 901.  It was trying to
capture the uncommon beauty of common things.  So later they had Don
Albinson from the office wash the pavement while they filmed.

Tocatta for Toy Trains was kind of a logical extension and
amplification of Parade and Travelling Boy (two earlier toy films). 
And I think by then they had figured out what they could do with toys
and the message (Honest use of materials) evolved naturally from that. 
Charles was always a fan of visual tricks (would have probably loved
digital photography for that reason) and having fun with them.  It is
said to have been inspired by a gift of a train from Billy Wilder, but
I think it seems so seamlessly woven into their concerns that it is a
bit more complicated than that.

SX-70 was commissioned by Edwin Land.  Land was a showman and his
stockholder meeting were legendary for their spectacle (in the best
sense of the word).  And he saw that Charles and Ray could help show
that the SX-70 had potential for beautiful not just quick pictures.  He
also saw that they could explain the ideas well.  What I love about
that film is that I often show and people are skeptical: why are you
showing me an Industrial Film?  Bu by the end it has turned into a
meditation on photography.  One of my favorites.

Another thing on Blacktop.  Where was it shown?  film festivals, MOMA,
but largely these things were shown in Charles's lectures or in the
office.  All the films became parts of the special environment that
Charles and Ray surrounded themselves with.

Later Blacktop was shown on a TV show to be improvved to by Jazz
musicians.  At the end of the show, the announcer said: Charles and Ray
Eames will have a brand new film for us next week . . .   Charles and
Ray and Parke (a longtime staffer working with them) looked at each
other--that was the first any of them had heard of it.  But they
figured: what the heck and made the first version of Tops within a
week.   (Turned out real fun: Tops from Stars of Jazz).

http://www.eamesoffice.com/films/Tops_Jazz.html
http://www.eamesoffice.com/films/Blacktop.html
http://www.eamesoffice.com/films/SX-70.html
  
inkwell.vue.147 : Eames Demetrios: An Eames Primer
permalink #45 of 135: Scott Underwood (esau) Tue 23 Apr 02 08:27
    
Did he justify this work as advertising? Was the office successful enough
that it could absorb this extracurricular work and still maintain a profit?
"Toccata" and some of the others seem time-consuming and, again, expensive--
as self-funded works I wonder if they ever got in the way of the studio's
income. After all, there were a few dozen people to support and keep busy.
  
inkwell.vue.147 : Eames Demetrios: An Eames Primer
permalink #46 of 135: Elaine Sweeney (sweeney) Tue 23 Apr 02 16:40
    
One of the wonderful things from my visit during the 50th anniversary
tours of the Eames House/Studio was seeing the *tabletop* that _Tocatta
for Toy Trains_ was filmed on.  Something 4' x 8' or so.
  
inkwell.vue.147 : Eames Demetrios: An Eames Primer
permalink #47 of 135: Eames Demetrios (eamesdemetrios) Tue 23 Apr 02 18:39
    
It's a good question, Scott, and I think that undoubtedly from a
strictly accounting standpoint it was probably part of marketing or an
expense of the lectures.  But I think from a business standpoint, it
was more accurate to describe these expenses as R & D and
communications.  Not only because it became significant line of work
(ie the World's Fairs) but because even Toy Trains was an exploration
of the honest use of materials in a way that directly connected to the
chairs.  Further, the overhead of the office, in all its facets, was
what it took for them to create in the way they wished to.
  
inkwell.vue.147 : Eames Demetrios: An Eames Primer
permalink #48 of 135: Eames Demetrios (eamesdemetrios) Tue 23 Apr 02 18:42
    
Hi Elaine, so good to touch base again.  Those tours were
wonderful--we'll do them every 50 years!

We're referring to a half day tour of the house and grounds and trip
throughthe archives (and a nice brunch/breakfast on the patio) that we
did at the Eames House to celebrate the 50th anniversary.  What a
blast!
  
inkwell.vue.147 : Eames Demetrios: An Eames Primer
permalink #49 of 135: (fom) Tue 23 Apr 02 19:13
    
It was a life-changing experience for me -- one of the major events ever, 
really. Thank you so much for doing them.
  
inkwell.vue.147 : Eames Demetrios: An Eames Primer
permalink #50 of 135: Linda Castellani (castle) Tue 23 Apr 02 23:25
    

Tell us more about the event!
  

More...



Members: Enter the conference to participate

Subscribe to an RSS 2.0 feed of new responses in this topic RSS feed of new responses

 
   Join Us
 
Home | Learn About | Conferences | Member Pages | Mail | Store | Services & Help | Password | Join Us