Abelardo Morell – Camera obscura’s modern master

While our recent article on camera obscura may have seemed like it was explaining something from ancient times, the method is still very much used today and can produce some stunning images.

(c) ABELARDO MORELL, Manhattan, New York

(c) ABELARDO MORELL, Boston

Perhaps the leading proponent of modern camera obscura is the Cuban-born photographer Abelardo Morell. He created his first images with the method in his own living room back in 1991 and has utilised it in many projects since, including his Two Views of Philadelphia exhibition that recently closed at the city’s Fabric Workshop and Museum.

(c) ABELARDO MORELL, Manhattan, New York

(c) ABELARDO MORELL, Manhattan, New York

If you are not familiar with camera obscura, it is really the precursor to modern photography and works by drawing light through a pinhole into a dark chamber or room. Typically a mirror is used to reflect the light onto a flat surface such as a wall.

(c) ABELARDO MORELL, Umbria, Italy

(c) ABELARDO MORELL, Umbria, Italy

Morell uses a prism to turn the image that comes through the right way up and then uses a large-format camera to capture the picture. In the early days this work took around five to ten hours to complete and was in black and white, but Morell now uses a full colour digital sensor that has reduced the exposure time down to just a few minutes.

(c) ABELARDO MORELL, Brooklyn Bridge

(c) ABELARDO MORELL, Brooklyn Bridge

For Morell, camera obcura is the ability to turn an entire room into a camera. Since his first project 23 years ago, he has used the method across the world with his 2010 collection of images from the American West being amongst his most popular.

(c) ABELARDO MORELL, Manhattan Bridge

(c) ABELARDO MORELL, Manhattan Bridge

(c) ABELARDO MORELL, Venice

(c) ABELARDO MORELL, Venice

In that project he created a portable tent with a periscope lens that projected the light in front of famous sights onto the ground, rather than a surface at the back of the tent. The results were quite spectacular, with one showing San Francisco’s Golden Gate Bridge against a sandy backdrop featuring grass and shrubs.

Tent camera

Tent camera

(c) ABELARDO MORELL, Golden Gate Brodge, San Francisco

(c) ABELARDO MORELL, Golden Gate Brodge, San Francisco

The photograph was included in his ‘The Universe Next Door’ collection that has premiered at a number of galleries in the past 12 months and has recently been published in a book of the same name that includes more than 100 of his previous creations, each telling their own unique story.

(c) ABELARDO MORELL

(c) ABELARDO MORELL

One of his most recent works is entitled ‘View of Philadelphia from Loews Hotel Room #3013 with Upside Down Bed’ is exactly what it describes. Created while his collection was being showcased in Philadelphia, the work shows the city’s bleak yet beautiful skyline against a backdrop of an upside down hotel room.

Morell says his intention is to change the way that people view the world around them, and he’s certainly accomplishing his goal. His images really have to be seen to be believed, as they expertly blend the bleak beauty of urban landscapes with surreal dreamscapes.