Abelardo Morell’s Camera Obscura Series

Wednesday: ART (and as always, photographic art, that is)

It’s wonderful how every day, every hour, minute and second there is always something to learn. I humbly consider myself as a photographer or photograph taker, and have always known the concept of “camera obscura”, but never before have I realized exactly what it was about, and not until viewing Abelardo Morell‘s Camera Obscura series have I really realized how stunning it is. It is a technique which, for some strange circumstance, I have never before paid enough attention to. But I’m gonna fix this and here is a taste:

Abelardo Morell’s Miami Beach in Empty Room, 2001

So, what exactly is camera obscura? The word “camera obscura” itself comes from Latin, camera for “vaulted chamber/room”, obscura for “dark”, and together “darkened chamber/room”, but no, it is not the typical dark room photographers use.. it’s an old, much older concept. The camera obscura has in fact been known to scholars since the time of Aristotle and of 墨子 (Mozi, for those of you interested in a short digression, he was a Chinese philosopher during the Hundred Schools of Thought period (early Warring States Period). He was born in Tengzhou, Shandong Province, China approximately in 470 BC, and founded the school of Mohism, arguing strongly against Confucianism and Daoism. Mozi’s moral teachings emphasized self-reflection and authenticity rather than obedience to ritual. He observed that we often learn about the world through adversity (“Embracing Scholars” in Mozi). By reflecting on one’s own successes and failures, one attains true self-knowledge rather than mere conformity to ritual. (“Refining Self” in Mozi) Mozi exhorted people to lead a life of asceticism and self-restraint, renouncing both material and spiritual extravagance). Going back to the camera obscura, yes camera obscura has been known for that long. Mozi referred to this device as a “collecting plate” or “locked treasure room.” and Aristotle.. well he, understood the optical principle of the pinhole camera, the camera obscura. He viewed the crescent shape of a partially eclipsed sun projected on the ground through the holes in a sieve and through the gaps between the leaves of a plane tree. In the 4th century BC, Aristotle noted that sunlight travelling through small openings between the leaves of a tree, the holes of a sieve, the openings wickerwork, and even interlaced fingers will create circular patches of light on the ground.

Camera obscura is in fact an optical device that projects an image of its surroundings on a screen. It is used in drawing and for entertainment, and was one of the inventions that led to photography and the camera. The device consists of a box or room with a hole in one side. Light from an external scene passes through the hole and strikes a surface inside where it is reproduced, upside-down, but with color and perspective preserved. The image can be projected onto paper, and can then be traced to produce a highly accurate representation.

Going back to our ancestors, exactly in 1751, from Encyclopédie, ou dictionnaire raisonné des sciences, des arts et des métiers, by Denis Diderot and Jean le Rond d’Alembert , the concept of the camera obscura can be perfectly understood:

Abelardo Morell was born in Cuba in 1948 and is now a Boston-based photographer. He is actually most known in the photographic community for creating those fantastic Camera Obscura images in various places around the world, particularly interesting are those taken in various bedrooms and living spaces.

By quoting Morell himself, on his photographic life and on his Camera Obscura series, he comments:

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. In the beginning, exposures took five to ten hours.
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.
A few years ago, in order to push the visual potential of this process, I began to use color film and positioned a lens over the hole in the window plastic in order to add to the overall sharpness and brightness of the incoming image. Now, I often use a prism to make the projection come in right side up. 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. I love the increased sense of reality that the outdoor has in these new works .The marriage of the outside and the inside is now made up of more equal partners.

His photographs, images and art make dreams set off in a twirl with ideas and smiles. Hope this will inspire you!

Abelardo Morell’s Houses Across the Street in Our Living Room 1991

Abelardo Morell’s The Brooklyn Bridge in Bedroom 1997

Abelardo Morell’s Manhattan View Looking West in Empty Room 1996

Abelardo Morell’s Manhattan View Looking South in Large Room 1996

Abelardo Morell’s Times Square in Hotel Room, 1997

Abelardo Morell’s The Chrysler Building in Hotel Room, 1997

Abelardo Morell’s The Eiffel Tower in the Hotel Frantour, 1999

Abelardo Morell’s Tuscan Landscape in Large Bedroom, Florence, Italy, 2000

Abelardo Morell’s Umbrian Landscape Over Bed, Umbertide, Italy, 2000

Abelardo Morell’s The Uffizi Museum Windows in East Wing Gallery, Florence, Italy, 1999

Abelardo Morell’s The Tower Bridge in the Tower Hotel, London, England, 2001

Abelardo Morell’s Courtyard Building, Lacock Abbey, England, 2003

Abelardo Morell’s Cathedral in Empty Room With Mirror, Antwerp, Belgium, 2006

Abelardo Morell’s The Philadelphia Museum of Art, East Entrance in Gallery #171 with a deChirico Painting, 2006

Abelardo Morell’s Sunrise Over the Atlantic Ocean: July 14th -5:20AM to 7:00 AM. Rockport, MA, 2006

Abelardo Morell’s Santa Maria della Salute in Palazzo Livingroom. Venice, Italy, 2006

Abelardo Morell’s Upright Image of the Piazzetta San Marco Looking Southeast in Office, Venice, Italy, 2006

Abelardo Morell’s Grand Canal Looking West Toward the Accademia Bridge in Palazzo Room Under Construction, 2007

Abelardo Morell’s Camera Obscura: View of Landscape Outside Florence in Room With Bookcase, 2009

Abelardo Morell’s Camera Obscura: View of Landscape Outside Florence Looking East Toward Where Galileo Died in Exile, 2009

Abelardo Morell’s Camera Obscura: View of the Brooklyn Bridge in Bedroom, 2009

Abelardo Morell’s Camera Obscura: The Pantheon in Hotel Albergo Del Sole al Pantheon, Room # 111, Rome, Italy, 2008

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

Abelardo Morell_Camera Obscura: View of the Manhattan Bridge-April 30th / Afternoon, 2010

Abelardo Morell_Camera Obscura: View of Central Park Looking North-Fall, 2008

Abelardo Morell’s Camera Obscura: View of Central Park Looking North-Summer, 2008

Abelardo Morell’s Camera Obscura: View of Central Park Looking North-Spring, 2010

And on an end note, I think Morell’s Camera Obscura series is one of the photographic series I appreciate the most. I find it of an above-nature beauty. And you might want to know, on a more personal note, I have something for up-side down photography, reflections, twisted images.. Morell’s definitely ticks all the boxes!

And please remember, all photographs are © Abelardo Morell.

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6 thoughts on “Abelardo Morell’s Camera Obscura Series

  1. Roberta, I really like this post as I was assistant for 5 years to Richard Learoyd ( do a google search for his work) and I helped him initially develope his Camera Obscura which is incredibly beautiful in terms of ‘real’ Photgraphy with all the chemistry etc… I think you will enjoy his work… A

  2. Do you happen to know where Mozi referenced the camera obscura? The wikipedia page on the camera obscura states that he talked of it and from there the idea that Mozi is linked to camera obscura has spread all over the internet, but I can’t find any information about the text in which he mentions it or the context. If you happen to know, that would be very helpful. Thanks.

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