The visions of Abelardo Morell

written by Diego Laurino
translated by Erika Bellè (IT Version)

The first time that I came across a picture from the cuban photographer Abelardo Morell I was completely floored, not just because a picture of my favourite painter (“The Soothsayer’s Recompense”, by Giorgio de Chirico) was present in it, but also for the way in which that picture attracted my gaze: my eyes went back and forth in amazement, slowly looking into every detail of that wonderful composition. Then, my mind took care of the rest. I wondered what meaning was under that invention, why the photographer would have combined a reversed layer of a building’s exterior with a clear image of an internal space, which merge option he would have used in postproduction to ensure that the image of the outside would cast so precisely over the home equipment. After some research, I discovered the great hand-crafted work behind the picture, the visionary idea of the photographer about his ability to grab images at the edge of surreal through light, patience and technique. No sign of retouching, no evidence of Photoshop, the outcome was acquired through one of the oldest optical device, the camera obscura, basis of photography and pioneer of camera. In 1515 Leonardo da Vinci was already referring to it and defined the aforementioned process as a means of drawing landscapes and buildings for real. This procedure was based on the creation of a single hole on one side of a camera obscura; over this hole an adjustable lens had been placed, so it projected an accurate and reversed image of the external landscape on the opposite wall. The mechanism enabled to copy an extremely clear and truthful picture of the external landscape on a paper specifically hanging in the right place.
«Who would have tought that such a tiny space would contain the pictures of the entire world?»

The study of the camera obscura is very old. In the 4th century Aristotele already illustrated its mode of application. Thanks to its high precision it was extensively used by some painter for setting pictures which caused perspective problems: painters like Canaletto (whose original camera obscura is at Correr Museum in Venice) already made use of the camera obscura in the 18th century; even he managed to gain his well-known “photographical” precision in capturing landscapes through this method. Abelardo Morell perfectly testifies the prodigious usage of this instrument through two of his most famous projects: Camera Obscura and Tent Camera. In the first case, he starts experimenting in 1991 with the techniques of the camera obscura by means of the obscuration of his living room; he later makes use of all the types of interior spaces as if they were a camera obscura travelling all over the world: he totally obscures the interiors and carefully measures the distance between the broached window and the opposite wall, so that he can exactly calculate the diameter of the hole from which the light will have to enter. Therefore, thanks to long hours of exposure and by using a large format device, Morell manages to capture the projection of the landscape out of the window reversed on the opposite wall. The result is a photograph within a photograph and this is the outcome of such artistic procedure which can impart magic in a natural way.

This mechanism gives us the opportunity to experiment «the strange and natural marriage between inside and outside». The Torre Eiffel tip which lies down over the sheets of a bed at the Frantour Hotel; the autumn colors of Central Park which draw a flat wall; the Pantheon; San Marco Square which enlives a drab office; the Brooklyn Bridge which envelops an entire bedroom and Santa Maria della Salute which lays down on a lively wallpaper.
However Morell doesn’t quit experimenting and, driven by being highly curious to explore the landscape and capture it in a very personal way, creates a device (half-tent and half-periscope) to show how the spontaneity of the land under our feet conveys our understanding of the panorama. Therefore the project Tent Camera begins. He writes: «I wanted to find a way to turn these well-known visions of iconic and familiar locations into my private discoveries». Jamie M. Allen even better illustrates Morell’s work explaining «these photographs are a combination of image and texture. The picture represents a common scenic view; but the intrigue results from the ground itself, his point of view over the landscape. The ground cover – dirt, heels, grass and sand – is generally at the base of the viewers, bypassed in favour of the view. Morell, on the contrary, links the ground to the panoramic view converting the landscape geology to his canvas».

A portable camera obscura which Abelardo uses all over the world, a way to link locations and architectures with the ground under them: the Baptistery of Florence; a view over Rome; the Rouen Cathedral; the Torre Eiffel; the Golden Gate Bridge; Chicago. They are totally different places, but bounded together for an unique perspective: the union of the horizontal with the vertical, of the flat surface with the heights, of the earth with the sky. The beauty of his work finds itself in the particular point of view, in the accurate choice of the landscapes, in the way he creates visions, in his experienced ability in obtaining a picture from an idea. The poet Lu Ji wrote in the 4th century «we incorporate an unlimited space within a paper square», even if he referred to the poet, these words train Abelardo Morell as a photographer: a constant labor limae in which dreams and world visions refer to a more intimate, researched, personal and human space.

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