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.
(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...
Eames Demetrios (eamesdemetrios) Sun 21 Apr 02 15:58
It's okay, pressure is my middle name.
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.
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?
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.
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?)
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?
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.
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 thats 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 its all--its 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 youre gonna be able to pull a marlin off and then and sew something with it or worm and tussle when youre 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.
Eames Demetrios (eamesdemetrios) Mon 22 Apr 02 20:28
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.
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.
(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.
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?
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).
Linda Castellani (castle) Mon 22 Apr 02 23:42
Thanks for the details, Eames. Were there other grandchildren, too?
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...)
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
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.
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.
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.
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!
(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.
Linda Castellani (castle) Tue 23 Apr 02 23:25
Tell us more about the event!
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