Salon 94

Charles and Ray Eames | Powers of Ten, 1977

Starting at a lakeside picnic in Chicago, Powers of Ten transports us to the outer edges of the universe. Every ten seconds we view the starting point from ten times farther out until our own galaxy is visible as nothing more than a speck of light among many others. Returning to Earth with breathtaking speed, we move inward—into the hand of the sleeping picnicker—with ten times more magnification every ten seconds. The journey ends inside a proton of a carbon atom, which is within a DNA molecule inside of a white blood cell. 

Charles and Ray first created this documentary short in 1968. The film was called A Rough Sketch for a Proposed Film Dealing with the Powers of Ten and the Relative Size of things in the Universe. In the spirit of iteration for which they are known, they rereleased it in 1977 under the name Powers of Ten. The film is an adaptation of the 1957 book, Cosmic View, by Kees Boeke, and more recently is the basis of a new book version. Both the film and book adaptations follow the form of Boeke’s seminal work; however, they feature color and photography rather than black and white drawings. In 1998, Powers of Ten was selected for preservation in the United States National Film Registry by the Library of Congress for being “culturally, historically, or aesthetically significant.”

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