Known as the couple whose work reshaped modernist design in post-war America and the world over, Charles and Ray Eames are famous for their revolutionary innovations; among them, the iconic molded plywood ‘Eames chair’. In 1977, the duo made Powers of Ten, a film essay (an early version of which was made in 1968) on the relative scale of things based on the 1958 book Cosmic View – The Universe in 40 Jumps by Dutch Educator Kees Boeke (1884-1966). Narrated by physicist Philip Morrison, the film takes the viewer on a voyage back and forth from the everyday world of our perception, shedding light on man’s place in an infinite and infinitely complex universe.
The film begins with an overhead image of a couple lounging in a Chicago park before rapidly zooming out. Every ten seconds, the camera zooms out by the power of ten, moving from a one metre square view of the couple — viewed from one metre away — to ten, hundred and thousand metres till it reaches the limits of the known universe. As the voyage progresses, the earth is left behind, revealing the solar system and the stars before going past our ‘whorled’ galaxy —the Milky Way— into far-off empty space where human understanding of the universe ends. Now the camera begins the voyage back, zooming in at the power of minus ten from the astronomical to the inner world of an atom, where we meet another limit of human perception– that of the infinitely small. As the voyage ends within a proton embedded deep in one of the couple’s hands, the sub-atomic merges with the galactic, revealing a world within us that is as infinitefilled with wonder as the vast swathes of outer space.