ABELARDO MORELL’S UNIVERSE NEXT DOOR AT HIGH MUSEUM OF ART – ATLANTA
Review by Labeauratoire US Correspondent Karen Nurenberg Rothstein
The photography exhibition, “The Universe Next Door” is now on view at The High Museum of Art in Atlanta, Georgia through May 18, 2014. It includes more than 100 works that span Abelardo Morell’s career from 1986 through the present-time.
Abelardo Morell was born in Havana, Cuba in 1948. He fled with his family in 1962, but before he left Cuba he saw many atrocities. His life was turned upside down by the things he lived through. These events have given him a great sense of depth and feeling which he has used in his work as a photographer. Morell is especially known for his work with the camera obscura, but he got his early inspiration from great masters of street photography such as Robert Frank and Henri Cartier-Bresson. Bresson was an early adopter of the 35mm format camera, which Abelardo used primarily for some time, but with the birth of his children, he left the light weight 35mm camera and went to a heavier, large format model. He began to experience things in a different way after his children were born, and he used the large format camera to express that new found depth of meaning with contrasting light and dark expression in his work.
Unlike many other photographers, Morell doesn’t limit himself to one photographic style. There are several different visual avenues he explores, giving this exhibition a dynamic variety.
Abelardo Morell shows us that you are never to old to experience things with the enthusiasm of a child. His children opened his eyes, allowing him to visualize things with a simplicity and wonderment, to go beyond what is plainly visible and to genuinely see and photograph the world in a different way. His work is indeed a magical mix between realism, surrealism and simplicity. Consider his photograph of a pencil. It is simply a pencil, but the morning shadows transform it into a magical tower.
One of the key images included in this exhibit shows the shadow of the artist’s house on the ground. A door, windows, and a fence have been drawn into the image, and his children pose, showing what might be going on inside or within. Reality merges with imaginary.
In “Still Life with Wine Glass”, which is a photogram, Morell has positioned the objects as a still-life. But with his artful magic and the use of water and glass, the result is surreal. The perspective is distorted, forcing the viewer to focus on the objects he has brought to the foreground.
Morell also has a great talent for showing excitement. He is able to capture the unique behaviors and properties of motion, and several photographs in this exhibit are good examples of this talent. The “Motion Study-Hammer” gives the illusion that a hammer is coming down to hit the nail on the head, but in reality it is three impressions of a hammer in lead.
The Camera Obscura (Latin for “dark room”) was one of the earliest methods of projecting an image. This was achieved by opening a small hole to allow light from the outside to penetrate into a darkened room. This technique would cast a faint, upside-down image of the outside scene onto the inside wall. This process helped early master artists such as Vermeer and dates back to the 10th century or perhaps even farther.
In 1991, Morell started bringing the outside world inside with his use of the camera obscura. At home with his family was where he felt the most inspired, so he started blackening rooms of his house and, with his large format camera on a tripod, he set out to make the most enchanting and exciting photographs he had done in his life.
Using Kodak Tri-X film in a view-camera, these first camera obscura images required an exposure time of several hours. When the first image was developed it was an epiphany for him. The interaction between the projected, outside image, with the ordinary elements of the room inside, produced a truly unique mixture.
Later, Morell started capturing these projections in color, and also devised a way to invert the image so that it would be seen right-side up. His retrospective at the High Museum displays the exciting evolution of these camera obscura photographs.
“A lot of my work tries to disorient you once you get invited in to something that seems normal. I like to suggest that what may be empty is not. When you feel alone there is actually a lot more of the world coming into your space than you think.”
– Abelardo Morell – http://shadowofthehouse.com/film.html
The next venture for Morell was to make a portable camera obscura, and his “Tent Camera” was what came to materialize from this endeavor. With the help of a friend he placed a periscope on top of a darkened tent enabling him to project the outside images onto the ground inside, where there was already a natural canvas. With the advances in digital photography, the increased light sensitivity allowed Morell to make exposures more quickly.
“The added use of digital technology on my camera lets me record visual moments in a much shorter time frame– for instance I can now get clouds and people to show up in some of the photographs.”
– Abelardo Morell – http://www.abelardomorell.net/srcHTML/tent-camera-statement.html
Liberated now with his tent camera, he was free to experiment out in the world.
BOOKS, PAPER AND MONEY
In some of the other works on display, Morell uses a 35mm camera to capture his love for the simplicity of everyday things, such as Books, Paper and Money. With this camera he achieves majestic close-ups, engaging the observer to realize the beauty in things we so often take for granted as mere objects.
In “Down the Rabbit Hole”, the rabbit, from “Alice in Wonderland,” struggles to peer down a hole made in a large book. This makes the viewer want to look inside and perhaps dream of what might be down there, and of possibilities to come.
In the image “Paper-Self” he has merely stacked up paper to create a profile of himself. The visual architecture of this photograph, with its detailed, contrasting highlights and shadows, is so well structured, it reveals his mastery and shows us the intricacy and pulchritude of his mind.
PICTURING THE SOUTH
In 1996 the High Museum established “Picturing the South” an initiative commissioning established and emerging artists to make a body of work that would show off the south. Abelardo Morell is the latest artist to receive this commission. He chose for his subject matter, the trees of the southern landscape, and captured them in his somewhat whimsical, yet natural way.
During Morell’s talk at the exhibition’s press conference, he describes his technique of hanging a large image of a wooded scene in front of the actual trees in the forest. He then cut out parts to expose the real landscape.
Like so much of this exhibition, this image offers us an interesting look into the way Morell continues to surprise us with each step he makes in his photographic journey.
“The Universe Next Door” runs through May 18, 2014 at The High Museum of Art in Atlanta, Georgia.
—————————————————————ALL TEXT AND “LABEAURATOIRE” PHOTOGRAPHS BY KAREN NURENBERG ROTHSTEIN FOR LABEAURATOIRE ©2014