Classic Braun Photos Celebrate Eichler Homes

Families enjoying life in their Eichler homes were a common subject of Braun’s promotional photos. Photos by Ernie Braun

When Ernie Braun photographed brand-spanking-new homes by Joe Eichler—model homes mostly and often occupied by smiling moms, happy partygoers, or playful children—the goal was straightforward.

“It was strictly for Eichler, for advertising purposes,” says Jonathan Braun, the photographer’s son.

But Ernie Braun was an artist, and people have loved the photos ever since—and not just people who live in the houses.

Over the years Eichler Network and Ernest Braun Photography released several large framed prints of Ernie’s best Eichler photos, most of which are still available via Jonathan. They were chosen from among the thousands of photos in Braun’s Eichler archive, Jonathan says. Braun's entire archive, by the way, has between 30,000 and 40,000 images.

It was hard choosing which images to include, Jonathan says. He and Marty Arbunich, publisher of Eichler Network’s CA-Modern magazine, sought photos “that seemed to have a particular quality, either graphically or stylistically, that reflected the styling of the era. [We chose] some that were strictly architectural, although they featured people, and some that focused more on the people.”

In this shot a man with pipe gazes, wistfully it seems, behind himself as he enters his atrium. An air of mystery, perhaps?

“The one I advocated for was of an Eichler home under construction in Lucas Valley. My dad did a lot of pictures in the field of houses being built. I find them fascinating. You see the structure without the sheathing, the big beams and the posts, and the skyscape of Upper Lucas Valley in the background.”

All the photos were shot with a 4-by-5-inch Sinar View camera, says Jonathan, who often worked with his father on the shoots when he was a child, sometimes helping handle the lights.

Jonathan worked closely with the negatives, having them cleaned up when needed, scanned, and turned into Giclee prints after comparing the prints to original photos to make sure contrast and balance were correct.

“They’re as good as I could get them,” Jonathan says.

Jonathan is sometimes called upon by a fan of his father’s works to produce a custom print. He recently made a large black-and-white print of an Eichler home for the person who currently lives in that home. Jonathan can be contacted through the Ernest Braun Photography website.

Braun (1921-2010), the son of the San Diego Impressionist painter Maurice Braun, got into commercial photography after serving as a combat photographer during World War II. In 1948 he and his wife Sally built a mid-century modern home in the hills of San Anselmo, where he lived and worked the rest of his life.

Eichler homes being constructed in Upper Lucas Valley – a favorite shot, says Jonathan Braun.

Over the years Braun shot a wide range of subjects, including architecture. Eichler, for whom he worked from 1954 to 1968, was a favorite client.

“I loved the artistic freedom the Eichler staff and their public relations firms would give me with assignments—to put people in the scenes, and if I wanted to, to have fun staging a pillow fight in a bedroom,” Braun recalled in an interview.

Braun was one of only a few top-line architectural photographers who included people in their shots—Julius Shulman was another. Many architects thought the sight of, say, a pretty woman or a cute kid might distract viewers from the beauty of their architecture.

But Eichler, after all, wasn’t just selling architecture—he was selling a way of life, and what better illustrated that than happy people?

Here the mom of the house seems to herd her child towards a living room decorated with a beautiful mosaic table. Artistry and art was always on display in Eichler model homes.

Braun, who used both professional models and everyday people—like Eichler salespeople, like his son Jonathan, like folks who moved into the Eichler subdivisions—managed to stage scenes with all the finesse and skill of a great movie director.

His photos charmed people back in the 1950s and 1960s—and they charm today, with the added appeal of nostalgia. And it’s not just the perky dresses the women wore, the neckties and pipes of the men. It’s the joy these people exude. Are people today anywhere, at any time, as happy as they were in Ernie's photos?

And the quality of light in these photos—the light seems palpable—and the shadows the light casts…this is graphic design of a high order.

Successful as he was shooting architecture for Eichler and many other clients, this was not Braun’s favorite subject.

That would be nature. A man with a spiritual bent, and an inveterate hiker, Braun spent years shooting almost every aspect of the out of doors both in California and around the world. He produced seven books of photography, had exhibits in galleries and museums, and taught photography, leading photography tours. The Association of Media Photographers gave him a ‘Living Legend Award.’

“If it's a beautiful design,” Braun said, “I'm interested in photographing it no matter what the subject is.” And Eichlers, of course, are beautiful designs.

This mom could have become a Hollywood star. Notice the reflections of the trees in the window, the husband looking in from the distance. Can we spot the reflection of Ernie Braun himself?

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