Despite the fact that Charles and Ray Eames practiced photography throughout their lives, the pictures they took have always been stuck in the shadow of the duo’s much-celebrated furniture, architecture and film projects. Determined to bring these photographs into the spotlight, independent curator Alexandra Midal took a trip to LA to sift through the Eames’ photography archive – a vast collection that totals 750,000 slides. Following her research, in 2013 she put together an exhibition in Milan titled ‘Re-Think the Eames’ that showcased 700 of their previously unseen photographs.
Now, three years on, Midal is revisiting the photographs, this time focusing upon a particular series titled Movie Sets that Charles Eames placed into a montage sequence for a lecture in 1971. The photographs were taken between 1951 and 1970 on the film sets of Charles’ good friend, director Billy Wilder. Bonding over their mutual love of contemporary design, the Eames and the Wilders became firm friends early on. ‘You don’t go to watch Billy shoot to learn how make a picture,’ Eames once said, ‘but to learn how to write an editorial, how to make a chair, how to make a piece of furniture.’
Now, all 240 of the previously unknown and unpublished Movie Sets photographs are being presented in a new show called ‘Eames & Hollywood’ that opens today at the Art & Design Atomium Museum in Brussels – the first temporary show that has ever been hosted at the venue. Curated by Midal with the support of the Eames Foundation, the show provides a glimpse into the world of the Eames and their own very unique way of looking at the world.
From technicians clambering over scaffolds to lighting rigs and cameras, as well as the odd glimpse of a Hollywood star, the photographs are displayed backlit across two long walls, supported by a dramatic timber scenography-inspired set designed by Adrien Rovero.
‘What matters so much for the Eames was not the actresses or actors or the stars. Absolutely not,’ says Midal in reference to the exhibition’s set design. ‘What matters to them is the technicians, the extras, the make-up artist, the machinery, the different apparatus; it’s not really the technique but the way the cinema is constructed.’
‘As kids we would see these slideshows in the office all the time and we knew they were special,’ recalls Eames Demetrios, Ray and Charles’ grandson and director of the Eames office. 'What’s so compelling about them is that although they’re nostalgic, they’re actually very contemporary in form and in the way you experience them. So to me it was thrilling to see the exhibition come together and to begin the process of getting them appreciated.’