Powers of Ten

The Staying Power of the Eames’ ‘Powers of Ten’

I saw a video getting a little traction on Facebook recently that explores the relative size relationships between our life here on Earth and the true expanse of the universe. I was immediately struck by its clear inspiration from “The Powers of Ten,” a 1977 film by Charles and Ray Eames, the husband and wife design team whose chairs you know, and whose multidisciplinary works include architecture, furniture design, photography, graphic design, fine art and film.

The film starts with a couple on a picnic blanket in a single square meter field of view. Every ten seconds, the distance becomes ten times farther, and the field of view becomes ten times wider. You can see where this is going: zooming out until we see the park, the city of Chicago, the Great Lakes, North America, the planet Earth, through our local solar system, to a nearby star (Arcturus, at 36.7 light years away, for the nerds in the audience, is one of my favorite stars for its cute little nickname “Alpha Boo”), our neighborhood in the Milky Way, neighboring galaxies, etc., etc.

Perhaps the content isn’t as mind-blowing today post-“Cosmos” reboot, but I find it fascinating that the Eames’ put so much work into an art-science film on this subject in 1977, when they could have been making, I don’t know, a sofa. Of course the styling and design are fantastic. I especially love the sound effects throughout, particularly at 2:36 when we arrive at the Sun.

If you, like me, enjoy space stuff and wallowing in an existential fog of your own minuscule insignificance, give this one a whirl.