New York Photo Review
NYPR Archives - 2010

Picture of the Week
Abelardo Morell
Ground Work
Abelardo Morell

There’s nothing new about the camera obscura; its origins can be traced to around 400 BCE. Artists like DaVinci used them during the Renaissance, but the way photographer Abelardo Morell has harnessed its optical principles for this exhibition at Bonnie Benrubi Gallery (and a companion show at Bryce Wolkowitz Gallery in Chelsea) might be considered, well, revolutionary, not to mention breathtaking. The camera obscura, which in Latin means a “darkened chamber or room” is essentially a pinhole camera on steroids. The photographer uses optical principles to capture an image inside the “chamber” or camera and in the olden days, traced the upside down image it projected onto a sheet of paper. Morell’s camera obscura is often a portable tent that he lugs onto airplanes and rooftops and comes back with some spectacular images, some upside down since he uses a periscope as his “lens” and sometimes a mirror to turn the image right side up. What makes this work so unique is that he’s projecting images onto the ground. He then photographs the projected image inside his tent camera or the “room” over a period of time, sometimes hours, with a view camera.

The first image that greets you as you enter the gallery is stunning—a 50” x 60” rooftop view of the Brooklyn Bridge, with the gravel from the rooftop adding a unique texture to the work. Morell then heads to Italy with a “View of the landscape outside Florence In Room with Books”— stacks of books piled high on the floor, with Florence off in the distance. No Photoshop here. There are eight other images in this show, a few taken in Maine and Texas, but mostly in Rome and Florence. You will be enthralled.

Morell has a concurrent exhibition at Benrubi entitled “Rota.” It features eight “cliché verre” images or glass pictures of ferns and cycads that are actually hand drawn negatives, a technique used by a number of 19th century painters. Along with the images, Morell has posted an explanation of how he produced these complicated images; it involves pressing several plants all over the surface of a smoked glass plate. Quite different than his camera obscura work, but if you need another reason to visit Benrubi, “Rota” is it.

 by unidentified photographer.
Abelardo Morell, “Camera Obscura: View of Landscape Outside Florence in Room with Books (2010)”

Abelardo Morell
Ground Work

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