Hollywood’s Golden Age, As Photographed By Charles Eames

The iconic midcentury polymath documented the making of Billy Wilder’s most famous films.

Legendary designers Charles and Ray Eames were multimedia masters, frequently—and brilliantly—communicating their philosophy through film and photography.


Over the years, their image archive grew to include over 750,000 snapshots that document everything from travels through India to the circus. One series in particular—Movie Sets—is the focus of a new exhibition new exhibition at the Art & Design Atomium Museum in Brussels, Belgium. Curated by Alexandra Midal, the photographs date from 1951 to 1971 and are all Charles’s snapshots from the sets of Billy Wilder films.

1972 – Eames office – Billy Wilder, Charles & Ray Eames

The Eameses and Wilder—who directed the classics Some Like it Hot, Sunset Boulevard, Double Indemnity, and The Apartment—were close friends since the days when Charles worked as an MGM set designer. The three famously collaborated on “Glimpses of the USA,” a multimedia installation at the 1959 American National Exhibition in Moscow. Moreover, Ray designed the opening credits for Love in the Afternoon.

“Charles used to say they learned more about architecture from watching a Billy Wilder film than talking to most architects,” Eames Demetrios, grandson of the Eameses and director of the Eames Foundation, said in a release. Wilder’s on-set sleeping habits even inspired the design for the Eames Chaise—a chair comfortable enough for a nap, but just narrow enough that Wilder would wake up if he tried to adjust his position.

Taken as a whole, the photographs offer a glimpse of what went into Wilder’s film productions: elaborate architectural backdrops in the desert, groups of people huddling around a camera, and complex lighting systems in the studio and outdoors. Spy a few of the images in the slide show above.

All Photos: © 2016 Eames Office, LLC, courtesy Art & Design Atomium Museum


About the author

Diana Budds is a New York–based writer covering design and the built environment.