Photospiration: Abelardo Morell

(Photospiration is a new series where we will feature classic and contemporary masters of photography every week. Enjoy!)


Abelardo Morell is an award winning Boston-based photographer. Born in Havana, Cuba in 1948. His family immigrated to the United States in 1962. Thirteen year old Abe Morell was soon adjusting to his new life in New York City. Morell’s love for photography began when he started taking pictures with a Brownie, an equivalent to a point-and-shoot camera at that time.

Twins, 1969

Four Masked Boys, 1969

Self Portrait, 1970

Morell later attended Bowdoin college, where he took a photography course there. During that time, Morell knew he wanted to continue taking pictures forever. He was tempted to ventured into the world of surrealism and street photography, trying to capture the strangeness of the world with his camera. In 1977, Moreell earned his Bachelor of Arts from Bowdoin College, and his MFA from Yale University in 1981.

Juan, 1974

Two Men Behind Glass, 1979

With the birth of his first child, Morell was reborn in an artistic way. The chaotic world of childhood shaped his work tremendously. Capturing his surroundings from a child’s point of view, Morell’s work was leaning more toward an untraditional approach to still life photography. He was drawn into taking pictures of every day objects from around the house.

Toy Horse, 1987

Toy Blocks, 1987

My Eyeglasses, 1989

My Eyeglasses, 1989

Morell is very fond of photographing and collecting books. “The magic of these objects lies somewhere between a photograph of a book and the book itself; at times, I have been convinced that books hold all the material of life- at least the stuff that fits between an A and a Z.”

For the picture below, in order to make the stars appear like they are coming out of the page, Morell did a long exposure photo of the book while rotating it in circles. Amazing!

Book of Revolving Stars, 1994

His love for books manifested itself in a later project. Morell wanted to tell the story of Alice in Wonderland in his own way. He created his own Wonderland with cutouts and books as landscapes.

A Mad Tea Party, 1998

His children were often the subject of his photographs. Armed with the power of imagination and infinite creativity, Morell turned his backyard into a dream land. The picture below is absolute favorite of mine!

Laura and Brady in the Shadow of Our House, 1994

Lisa and Brady Behind Glass, 1986

Julian, 1989

Julian, 1989

Water was also an interesting subject for Morell. He was fascinated by its nature and the way it bends light. This showed greatly in his pictures.

Two Forks Under Water, 1993

Water Alphabet, 1998

“As a good father, I was stuck at home. I couldn’t go see a waterfall, but I could see water pouring out of a pot. It’s quite amazing when you start looking closely to what’s around you. How different and surprising things are.”

Water Pouring Out of a Pot, 1993

Inspired by the nature of water, and how it changes the path of light, Morell later decided to experiment with light. With the nature of seeing, and ultimately with cameras. Morell made photography itself his subject.

Below is a picture of Morell taking a picture of his camera while it was taking a picture of him. Brilliant, isn’t it? (Can you spot Morell in the picture?)

My Camera and Me, 1990

In 1991, Morell built his very own camera obscura. Yet again, his work evolved into a different direction.

Light Bulb, 1991

“I made my first picture using camera obscura techniques in my darkened living room in 1991. In setting up a room to make this kind of photograph, I cover all windows with black plastic in order to achieve total darkness. Then, I cut a small hole in the material I use to cover the windows. This allows an inverted image of the view outside to flood onto the walls of the room. I would focus my large-format camera on the incoming image on the wall and expose the film.”

Turning a whole room into a camera obscura, Morell produced dreamy images with this method. He is perhaps best known for this series.

The Empire State Building in Bedroom, 1994

Because of the very dim light, pictures like this would take up to eight hours of exposure.

Manhattan View Looking West in Empty Room, 1996

Manhattan View Looking West in Empty Room, 1996

Times Square in Hotel Room, 1997

Times Square in Hotel Room, 1997

“Over time, this project has taken me from my living room to all sorts of interiors around the world. One of the satisfactions I get from making this imagery comes from my seeing the weird and yet natural marriage of the inside and outside.”

The Eiffel Tower in the Hotel Frantour, 1999

The Pantheon in the Hotel Des Grands Hommes, 1999

The London Eye inside the Royal Horseguards Hotel, London, England, 2000

Morell later began to use color film in his camera obscura project. He also positioned a lens over the hole in the window plastic in order to add sharpness and brightness to the incoming images.

Santa Maria della Salute in Palazzo Livingroom. Venice, Italy, 2006

Because of the long exposure time, Morell decided to take advantage of technology and use a digital camera instead. “I have also been able to shorten my exposures considerably thanks to digital technology, which in turn makes it possible to capture more momentary light.” Morell says. By using a digital camera, Morell was able to cut down the exposure time from the usual 5 to 10 hours, to three seconds.

Morell also modified his method, and successfully flipped the projected image 180 degrees.

Camera Obscura: View of Landscape Outside Florence in Room With Bookcase, 2009

Camera Obscura: View of the Grand Canal Looking Northeast From Room in Ca’ Foscari. Venice, Italy, 2008

Camera Obscura: View of Central Park Looking North-Summer, 2008

A revisited location from earlier, this time with the tweaked techniques.

Camera Obscura: View of Times Square in Hotel Room, 2010

Morell’s love to experiment with the nature of photography didn’t stop there. With the help of his assistant, he designed and built something that had exactly what his pervious project was lacking: portability. He built a light proof tent, about 40 ft in diameter, with a periscope apparatus on top.

Tent Camera in Action

The tent-camera would project images on the ground underneath it, giving him a new way to look at the world.

The Resulting Image: View Looking Southeast Toward The Chisos Mountains. Big Bend National Park, Texas, 2010

“Inside this darkened space I use a view camera to record the effect, which I think is a rather wonderful sandwich of two outdoor realities coming together.”

Tent-Camera Image On Ground: View of Landscape Outside Florence, 2010

Nature does pointillism. Like a Georges Seurat painting!

Tent-Camera Image on Ground: View of Jordan Pond and The Bubble Mountains. Acadia National Park, Maine – March, 2010

Morell did also a series called “Cliché -Verre” where he used a very old picture-making technique to create hand made negatives. To see more of this beautiful series, click here.

Fern One, 2009

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Image Credits: http://www.abelardomorell.net/
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