For more than 30 years, Cuban-American photographer Abelardo Morell has captured the magic of photography through the camera obscura. His practice began as a demonstration for his students of the basic physics of light, known since ancient times, by transforming his classroom into a camera obscura. Since the early 1990s, Morell has transformed rooms, beginning with his home in Brookline, Massachusetts and expanding to places far-flung across the globe. The principle is simple – light passing through a small opening will reflect what is outside the opening onto the opposite surface upside down and reversed left to right. The camera obscura, literally “dark room,” forms the basis for virtually all photography.
I have been fascinated by Morell’s work since I introduced his practice in my photography classes as professor at Monmouth University. Since I only had a small window in my classroom that looked out on a non-descript alley, I couldn’t replicate Morrell’s demonstration directly, but I always showed the video that is part of our new exhibition. By turning a room into a camera obscura and then photographing its projection on the wall, he captures both what is outdoors behind him and what is indoors in front of him in the same image, creating fascinating compositions and strange new worlds that are realistic and dream-like at the same time.
The photo in MAM’s collection, Camera Obscura Image of Brookline View, in Brady’s Room (1992) is from the early work, which was inspired by Morell’s turn from street photography, in the style of such photographers as Henri Cartier-Bresson, Diane Arbus and Robert Frank, to work that incorporated his family life. Here, his son Brady’s room is transformed into a mystical place of strange creatures, stark shadows, and an upside-down world – making future existence in the broader world seem like a strange and dangerous adventure. This picture effectively captures the transition from the comfort of childhood to the uncertainties of adulthood. The viewer is caught in between; neither world feels quite right.
Text Written by Ira Wagner (Executive Director of MAM)
This work is not on view.