Tuesday, January 13, 2009

Domande a Abelardo Morell

Abelardo Morell, Flashlight and Salt: Photogram on 8” x 10” Film, 2006

We all know him for his landscapes captured inside the darkness of empty rooms, his Camerae Obscurae prolonging the magic of the birth of photography, but Abelardo Morell has many more things to show and tell us, as he kindly did in the following interview. Enjoy the read!

Lo conosciamo soprattutto per i suoi paesaggi catturati nell'oscurità di stanze vuote, le sue Camerae Obscurae che ricreano la magia della nascita dell'immagine fotografica, ma Abelardo Morell ha molte altre cose da mostrarci e da raccontarci, come ha fatto nell'intervista che segue. Buona lettura!

HB: Your early pictures were somehow inspired by the street photography of the 50's and the 60's in the US, and then you sort of moved inside your house's walls and started creating your own visual world. What made you change direction and turn your vision towards your own personal life?

Abelardo Morell: When my son Brady was born in 1986, the combination of new feelings for family life and being tired of the more alienating looking ironic work that I was doing in the streets led me to consider life from a more stationary and loving point of view. I discovered the pleasures of view camera work, which was so fitting with the subject of my family and domestic objects in front of me. I believe that this shift of focus in the mid 80’s still influences the pictures that I’m making now.

Topsham, Maine, 1982

HB: Some of your series seem to have something in common with certain aspects of the Surrealism movement, both your recent Photograms and the way you’ve been photographing objects in other series, somehow reminding the Objets Trouvés as described by André Breton. But at the same time your images deal with those objects in a totally different way, not leaving anything to chance. What’s your opinion about it?

AM: Surrealism was very important in my early artistic development because it helped me shake certain rigid boundaries. Magritte is one of my favorites – he paints objects in a very matter of fact way, almost photographically. I prefer that sort of surrealism where the world almost looks right and then after some inspection it doesn’t add up. In my work I like playing with the normal to see if it can lead to supernormal areas.

Still life with Pears: Photogram on 20” x 24” Film: Contact Print, 2006

HB: Your images often seem to deal with a re-representation of a pre-existing image, rediscovering the visual meaning of things we are quite used to look at.

AM: Because things have been photographed and represented so much it is often the case that they no longer have the same impact they once had. Imagine making an interesting sunset picture? I guess in my work I want to reilluminate some new sense of what we have gotten used to. It’s partly the Ezra Pound command of art TO MAKE IT NEW.

HB: How did you start the Camera Obscura project? What was your main inspiration?

AM: In the early 80’s, when I began teaching I would turn my classroom into a camera obscura to show students the roots of photography, so in 1991 while on leave I decided to actually make a picture of the effect - something I had never seen done before. My first picture was in our living room in 1991.

Boston's Old Customs House in Hotel Room, 1999

HB: Do you plan to end this series at some point or can it go on forever?

AM: It seems that I ‘m coming up with new variations on the camera obscura project – now I use color and I’m inverting the image so that it’s right side up. I plan to make some outdoor camera obscura images in Texas in March. So it continues.

HB: What makes you choose to keep or dismiss a Camera Obscura after you shot it? Did you leave out many exposures from the final series?

AM: The failures are few because I spend so much time preparing that usually I get what I want. Occasionally the sun doesn’t come out, or somebody opens a door.

Umbrian Landscape in Empty Room, Umbertide, Italy, 2000

HB: In your Money series you turned money from something we use to something we look at, or play with, reminding somehow the toys in your Childhood series. What was your inspiration for this photographic work?

AM: Money is symbolic paper and in that sense this work is a bit like what I did with books. In another sense I guess that I want to make pictures of money as pure material in a way to disconnect it from its less flattering hold on us.

$ 7 Million, 2006

HB: Have you ever thought about illustrating other books after your work on Alice in Wonderland?

AM: I’m thinking of working on the second Alice book, Through the Looking Glass.

HB: What does the use of black & white mean for you?

AM: I began shooting black & white in the streets copying my heroes like Cartier-Bresson, Robert Frank, Diane Arbus etc, so emotionally I’m tied up to strong feelings through black & white. Recently I have been using color and I like the new sense of reality this film can suggest - It makes me feel like a young painter.

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

HB: Do you still teach photography? What role did teaching play in your career?

AM: I have been teaching photography since 1983 and I still love doing it. My best students help me more than they know. Seeing their enthusiasm and ways that they find to solve visual problems energizes me to no end. The biggest pleasure comes to seeing a little of my own beginnings in them and that in turn makes me keep going.

HB: What interests you most of the contemporary photography scene?

AM: The new contemporary scene is so vast that it’s hard to understand it all. I try to keep up with it - mostly young artists. Looking at talented young people reminds me of my own beginnings and it inspires me to remain young at heart, too.

HB: What’s next in your photographic projects?

AM: I’m working on photographing early American words written by the founding people of the United States. Like Lincoln’s handwritten word SLAVERY.

The Night Cafe -Yale University Art Gallery, 2008


fabusdr said...

era un po' che non facevo un giro sul sito di morrell, grazie per avermi dato l'occasione di scoprire un bel po' di nuovi lavori.
La camera obscura del Philadelphia Museum of Art con il quadro di de Chirico è veramente fantastica!

Anonymous said...

If you are interested in Abelardo Morell's work check out the documentary Shadow of the House - Photographer Abelardo Morell

Filmmaker Allie Humenuk followed Morell for over seven years. The film really captures Morell's work and artistic process.

It's available on DVD here: http://www.shadowofthehouse.com/film.html