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Abelardo Morell

The back of an old 4 inch by 5 inch camera shows the inverted image of a man standing behind a glass door.

Abelardo Morell. My Camera and Me, 1990. Gift of Daniel Greenberg and Susan Steinhauser. © Abelardo Morell, courtesy of Edwynn Houk Gallery, New York.

Date of birth

Abelardo Morell is known for works that use photography to explore visual surprise and wonder examining everyday objects and images with fresh vision as well as using simple optics in myriad forms.

Morell came with his family to the United States from Cuba as a teenager in 1962. He received a scholarship to attend Bowdoin College in Maine, where he first took a photography course; he later completed an MFA in photography at Yale University, looking to street photographers such as Henri Cartier-Bresson and Robert Frank as models. After the birth of his son in 1986, he began making large-format pictures around his home, examining common household objects with childlike curiosity. As a professor at Massachusetts College of Art and Design, he experimented with optics in his teaching and initiated a series in which he turned an entire room into an optical device called a camera obscura by darkening the windows but for a single pinhole. Morell would then photograph the projection of the outside world onto the surfaces of the room’s interior. 

In his following series, Morell continued to explore and experiment. He has turned his camera on objects and spaces that convey cultural meaning such as books, maps, money, and museums in extensive series that explore the perception of images. He has experimented with techniques as varied as photograms, still-life tableaux, stop-motion studies, and a tent camera of his own invention—a kind of portable camera obscura that throws the image of a landscape upon the ground’s surface. Most recently, after decades of working exclusively in black-and-white, he has embraced color, returning to old themes and series to view them in a new spectrum while pioneering ways to understand optical effects, nature, and picture making. 

In 2013, the Art Institute organized Morell’s traveling mid-career retrospective, Abelardo Morell: The Universe Next Door.

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