Charles Eames, born 1907 in St. Louis, Missouri, studied architecture at Washington University in St. Louis and opened his own office together with Charles M. Gray in 1930. In 1935 he founded another architectural firm with Robert T. Walsh. After receiving a fellowship in 1938 from the Cranbrook Academy of Art, he moved to Michigan and assumed a teaching position in the design department the following year. In 1940, he and Eero Saarinen won first prize for their joint entry in the competition "Organic Design in Home Furnishings" organized by the New York Museum of Modern Art. During the same year, Eames became head of the department of industrial design at Cranbrook, and in 1941 he married Ray Kaiser.
Ray Eames, née Bernice Alexandra Kaiser, was born in Sacramento, California in 1912. She attended the May Friend Bennet School in Millbrook, New York, and continued her studies in painting under Hans Hofmann through 1937. During this year she exhibited her work in the first exhibition of the American Abstract Artists group at the Riverside Museum in New York. She matriculated at the Cranbrook Academy of Art in 1940 and married Charles Eames the following year.
The Eames’ studio in 901 Washington Boulevard has often been described as a circus, where visitors walked into an arena full of surprises. One of these unplanned moments triggered the famous motorcycle photo. While working on the set of one of their many photo shoots in 1948, a friend rode by on his Velocette. Charles and Ray hopped on the motorcycle, and someone snapped a shot. A spontaneous gesture, yet no isolated instance: The Eameses used photography to teach people to see the beauty inherent in everyday objects, from furniture pieces and folk art to motorcycles. This iconic image not only represents the creative and spontaneous characters of Charles and Ray Eames, but also expresses their approach to the design profession, which was: “to take pleasure seriously”.
Together, they made design history.