NEW HAVEN, CT.- Best known for his extraordinary images of interiors created with the ancient technology of the camera obscura, contemporary artist Abelardo Morell has been actively exploring the photographic medium for the past thirty years. Behind the Seen: The Photographs of Abelardo Morell provides an in-depth look at the role that artworks and monuments play in the artists major photographic series. Approximately forty images are on display, featuring Morells work in black and white alongside his newest color photographs, and including twenty of the camera obscura images. The exhibition also features a special camera obscura room, which invites visitors to enter the space of one of the artists pictures. Morell is the current Happy and Bob Doran Artist in Residence at the Yale University Art Gallery and is creating new work based on the Gallerys collections. Several recent photographs made at the museum are on view for the first time.
Morells camera obscura photographs meld ancient and modern technologies to reflect upon the history of photography. The camera obscura (Latin for dark chamber) is a paperless apparatus that was first noted by Aristotle and has since been explored by artists from Leonardo da Vinci to David Hockney. Since 1991, Morell has become an expert in converting rooms into camera obscuras by blocking out all light sources with the exception of a pinhole opening, which functions as a lens. As light enters the room, an inverted image of the outside world is projected on the opposite wall. Morell records this otherwise ephemeral effect with a long exposure that may last up to eight hours, capturing fluctuations of movement and light over time. The photographs that result superimpose two realities, overlapping exterior with interior, public with private, and a two-dimensional projection with three-dimensional reality. In Camera Obscura Image of Times Square in Hotel Room (1997), for example, a projection of Times Square floods a quiet hotel room with a double bed. The generic features of the room remain visible but recede in the enveloping maelstrom of Times Square. In these camera obscura images, the effects of inversion and the sheer visual density of the photograph often give viewers pause, as when a traveler perceives the ordinary with heightened awareness in a new environment.
Morells deep engagement with optics and perception and his penchant for unusual juxtapositions extend through his other series. These concerns become apparent with a close look at his photographs of artworks and monuments. In Old Travel Scrapbook: Pyramids (2000), a shadow cast across the opened pages creates a more ethereal pyramid than those pictured.
In his newest work at Yale, Morell transposes these themes into the medium of color photography, turning his camera to works of art from the Gallerys collection. In Nadelman/ HopperYale Art Gallery (2008), a white marble sculptural head by Elie Nadelman appears to merge with Edward Hoppers painting Rooms by the Sea, to the point that the superimposed pieces appear to oscillate between being two separate works of art and a third, newly begotten offspring. These new photographs attest to the self-reflexive quality that has characterized Morells work for nearly two decades, as he moves from an engagement with the history of photography to an exploration of its relationship to painting.
Behind the Seen: The Photographs of Abelardo Morell is organized by Anna Hammond, Deputy Director for Programs and Public Affairs, and Christine Paglia, the Florence B. Selden Curatorial Intern in the Department of Prints, Drawings, and Photographs, both of the Yale University Art Gallery.
Born in 1948 in Havana, Cuba, Morell received a B.F.A. from Bowdoin College, Brunswick, Maine, in 1977, and an M.F.A. from the Yale School of Art in 1981. He is currently Professor of Photography at the Massachusetts College of Art in Boston and has received numerous awards for his work including the John Simon Guggenheim Memorial Fellowship and a Cintas Foundation Fellowship. His photographs are included in the collections of the Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York; the Museum of Modern Art, New York; the Los Angeles County Museum of Art; and the Philadelphia Museum of Art, among many others.