Abelardo Morell ’71 H’97 talks about his new exhibition “A Mind of Winter”

Photographer Abelardo Morell '71 speaks about his work in a May 5 presentation at Bowdoin College.

Photographer Abelardo Morell ’71 speaks about his work in a May 5 presentation at Bowdoin College.

On May 5, the Museum opened A Mind of Winter: Photographs by Abelardo Morell. With support from the National Endowment of the Arts and a gift from Eric ’85 and Svetlana Silverman, the Museum commissioned Morell to come to Maine earlier this winter to create a new series of photographs on the theme of winter. During this project, Morell visited several classes to talk with Bowdoin faculty and students about his work and about the challenges of making compelling photographs. On the afternoon of the exhibition’s opening, he spoke in Kresge Auditorium—before a standing room only crowd—about this project, his time as a Bowdoin student, and the life of a fine art photographer. A recording of the lecture is archived here. The following are selected excerpts from his presentation:

About being a student at Bowdoin: “Growing up in Cuba—on this warm island—and then coming to Brunswick, it’s similar to one of those particle accelerators, where one thing hits another, and what happens is why I’m here tonight. It’s an amazing hybrid of energies and possibilities. I am indebted for Bowdoin for taking me and for letting me play as a lifelong thing.”

About moving to the United States: “Coming as an exile to New York City with my parents as a child was a shock, but it was an exciting time for me. The idea of the United States, and of New York City especially, gave me this tickling feel of potential, that you could do anything you wanted … I believe in the potential of becoming something in this country.”

About working with Bowdoin photography professor John McKee: “Taking a course with John McKee was really the moment where I was going in one direction and then suddenly I began going in a new direction. Working with him, I discovered that this medium gave me a voice and soon I found I wanted to do this forever. I wasn’t sure how I was going to make a living, but I was taken by John’s way of teaching photography, as part of music, art, and humor, and about seeing art in multiple ways.”

About approaching this commission: “One of the things I tried to do was to find a new approach to making pictures. It wasn’t about composition so much as a state of being. In some of these photographs I really liked this blankness of the landscape interspersed with almost musical notations … I like the musicality of the landscape, the sense of nothing being something or things being nothing.”

About creating cliché verre prints for the exhibition: “The idea of affecting surfaces, changing them, working them, reworking them has been around in my work for a long time … Cliché verre means glass picture in French. It’s a drawing on glass that becomes a photograph. This idea has really interested me recently … For this project I wanted to re-think the possibilities of the cliché verre. I wanted to make the idea of a landscape that felt somewhat real but that wasn’t too real, but that had some sense of winter in it. Over two weeks I had several pieces of glass, which I would work the surface with ink, scratch it, bite it, whatever … When it dried I digitally scanned the glass and then printed them … I feel like I am flirting with photography, cheating on it by doing this type of work, but it brings me back to the early years [of the medium]—Fox Talbot, photograms, pictures that began with these makeshift negatives, so it feels like I am using the past to inform this work, and I’m really liking it, and I want to do more of it.”

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