Abelardo Morell ’71, H’97 Creates Camera Obscura Photograph at the Museum of Art

Last year the Bowdoin College Museum of Art invited Abelardo Morell to create a new series of photographs on the theme of winter. While working here in Maine and during the organization of A Mind of Winter, the exhibition that resulted from that project, Morell revisited the Museum, where he had taken classes and been employed.

"Camera Obscura: The Campus Quad inside the Rotunda of the Bowdoin College Museum of Art, July 30th, 2015," archival inkjet print, by Abelardo Morell ’71, H’97. Bowdoin College Museum of Art. Gift of the artist, courtesy of the Edwynn Houk Gallery. ©Abelardo Morell.

“Camera Obscura: The Campus Quad inside the Rotunda of the Bowdoin College Museum of Art, July 30th, 2015,” archival inkjet print, by Abelardo Morell ’71, H’97. Bowdoin College Museum of Art. Gift of the artist, courtesy of the Edwynn Houk Gallery. ©Abelardo Morell.

On that occasion he observed that the Museum’s Rotunda might be an ideal setting in which to create a camera obscura photograph. As an artist, Morell has long been interested in optics, and in the late 1980s began experimenting with the camera obscura.

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By placing a lens on a window, he was able to project an image of the outside world into a darkened space. With his camera he then photographed that space.The combination of the projection and details in the room created startling juxtapositions that often evoked dream-like fantasies.

In July, with assistance from Nevan Swanson ’18, the Museum’s staff, and various student interns, Morell eliminated all light from entering the Rotunda and then, after cutting a small aperture in the dark plastic that covered the door of the Rotunda, affixed his lens to that spot.

At once a bright projection of the Bowdoin Quad appeared on the far wall. On his cell phone from inside the Rotunda, he communicated instructions about the arrangement of figures on the outside lawn. With his camera set up inside on a tripod, he photographed the wall on which the projection was cast.

The resulting image is not simply a record of this optical experiment, but also a unique work of art that conveys ideas about the past, present, and future.

As its composition shares similarities with Raphael’s fresco The School of Athens (1509) and Seurat’s painting A Sunday Afternoon on the Island of La Grande Jatte (1884), it speaks to the historic role that the arts and philosophy have played in a liberal arts education. About the photograph Morell has recently written:

In 1969, when I was a junior at Bowdoin, I took my first photography course with Professor John McKee in a classroom in the basement of the Walker Art Museum. Discovering this medium with McKee’s insightful teaching made me aspire to be an artist on the spot. More than forty-five years later, under the roof of the same museum, I made a camera obscura photograph showing the college quad projected on an inside wall of the rotunda. For me this picture is an invitation to the entire campus to the promise and pleasures of art, and to this museum that welcomed me with open arms so many years ago.

This photograph will be on view at the Museum during Homecoming and Inauguration weekend. It is also available for purchase as a limited edition print. Each photograph is signed and dated, and is offered mounted and framed at the artist’s direction. The edition size is limited to 100.

The proceeds from this sale will go into a fund at the Bowdoin College Museum of Art, named for Morell and his wife Lisa McElaney ’77, to support photographic exhibitions, programs, and acquisitions of work by promising young photographers. For more information, please inquire with staff in the Museum shop or go on-line to The Bowdoin Store.

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thumb:Chinese, "Jar (Guan)," 3000-2500 BC, painted ceramic. Gift of George and Elaine Keyes in honor of Barry Mills. Bowdoin College Museum of Art.