Abelardo Morell and the Camera Obscura

The artistic vision of a photographer begins with the opening of their camera’s shutter, but it rarely, if ever, ends there.  An image is subjected to manipulations in dark rooms or in digital software, giving the photographer the chance to fine-tune their original vision, or explore other ones.  One aspect in the creation of the final image that is sometimes overlooked is the printing process.  Through different paper textures, canvases, ink types, print finishes, and so on, the photographer has one last chance to alter the feel of their image.

But what if the additional textures or depths that normally come from the editing and printing process could be added to an image in the initial stage of capturing it?

This is what caught my eye in the Photo Issue of National Geographic back in October.  In it there was a series of photographs by Abelardo Morell, a widely published American photographer born in Cuba.  Some of his more popular work involves the use of a camera obscura, a precursor to the modern camera, which in its simplest form can be created with nothing more than a window, aluminum foil, and duct tape (see how, here:  http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=B2aOs8RWntg ).  Morell originally used the camera obscura to project images from outside onto the interior walls of hotels and other structures, and then photographed this combination.  The results are intriguing to say the least, and often leave you questioning which portion of the image is interior and which is exterior.

Upright Camera Obscura: Piazzetta San Marco Looking Southeast in Office, 2007

(Abelardo Morell: Upright Camera Obscura: Piazzetta San Marco Looking Southeast in Office, 2007)

After several years of images shot in this way, Morell pushed the creative envelope in order to fulfill the desire to shoot these types of pictures anywhere and at any time, not being limited by hotel rooms and the views from their windows.  His creation was a tent-like structure with a camera obscura at the top that would project an image onto the ground beneath the tent.  This in turn combines the image with the textures of the grass, rock, gravel, or pavement around the scene.  While the projected image is usually not as sharp when shot inside of the tent (in part because of the unevenness of the ground it is being projected onto), this combination feels more organic since you don’t have to differentiate between two separate scenes, and are instead presented with two aspects of the same scene:  the view, and the makeup of the ground surrounding it.

Tent-Camera Image On Ground: South Window. Arches National Park, Utah, 2011

(Abelardo Morell: Tent-Camera Image On Ground: South Window. Arches National Park, Utah, 2011)

Ultimately, these types of images are what I love about photography and the creative process behind it.  Just when it starts to feel as though you’ve seen the world from every possible angle, works like Morell’s open up a brand new way of looking at the things around us.

For all of Morell’s work, visit his website at:  http://www.abelardomorell.net/posts/category/photography/

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