Posted October 8, 2013

For the Eameses, and particularly for Charles, photography was not merely a way to record things, it was a part of the process of design, part of the process of understanding the furniture.

It wasn’t a matter of taking these pictures and examining them later for flaws—no, it was the act of moving around the object, viewing it through the lens, making a series of decisions about taking a picture, and perhaps isolating and assessing the object without distraction or delusion. That process was the critical experience for Charles.

But photography was not simply a matter of understanding furniture. It was a critical part of the Eames ethic. Charles often said that photography was a way of having your cake and eating it too. One had the pleasure of the experience, but also the pleasure of keeping and sharing that experience as well.  A favorite family story (at office and at home) tells how, once, in the 1960′s, Charles’ only—and beloved—sister Adele called from her home in Gulfport, Mississippi to say that there had been a terrible hurricane. Houses were floating down Main Street, massive 200 year old trees were up rooted, lines were down and, in fact, they would probably be cut off for a few days; but not to worry, everyone in the family was okay.  Thus assured, Charles said, “Yes. But did you get pictures?”

Photography was an integral part of the design process. Dick Donges worked at the Eames Office for 15 years, particularly in the workshop.  Today he is a founding partner in the design firm of Neuhart/Donges/Neuhart. Here he is discussing the process of critiquing the Eames prototypes: “[Charles] would come back, and Ray would come back, and they both had a very good eye. Charles had a terrific eye. He’d do a piece of furniture and not until he looked at that piece of furniture through a camera could he make really any criticism.  But once he started photographing it, he knew exactly what was wrong with it.”

In other words, photography was not something that happened at the end of the process so that they could sell furniture; for Charles and Ray Eames, it was actually part of the process of designing it.

The Eames Office’s Gifted Eye exhibition traveled to 4 continents.  Click here to see one of the venues.