Discreetly tucked away in the corners of the Daggett Lounge are a couple of photographs that arguably belong in the Walker Art Museum. They are the works of Abelardo Morell '77, whose unbelievable pictures will have students penciling in Photography on their spring enrollment forms.
On Wednesday, November 7, Bowdoin was proud to screen a viewing of the documentary "Shadow of the House," which followed Morell and his work over a period of eight years. Directed, filmed, and produced entirely by filmmaker Allie Humenuk, this miraculous fusion of artistic mediums displayed both Humenuk's talent as a producer and Morell's superb photography skills.
Morell is world-renown for his work with camera obscura, a technique that involves a six- to eight-hour exposure of a room lit only by a small hole in the window. The prints Morell produces using this method depict an inverted image of the view from the window, projected on a wall in the room. The documentary, which Humenuk began filming in 1999, follows Morell around the world as he pursues his passion for his art.
Humenuk travels with Morell to Paris to shoot the Eiffel Tower, to New York to shoot Times Square and the Empire State Building, and to Cuba to shoot poignant shots of Morell's home city, Havana.
In addition to focusing on Morell's art, the documentary also zeros in on his emphasis on the importance of family in his work. After fleeing from Cuba with his parents and sister in 1962, Morell worked hard to learn English and assimilate into American culture. To show loyalty to his home, Morell chose to remain a Cuban citizen and only recently obtained American citizenship a few years ago.
Humenuk captures not only the phenomenal photography that Morell has produced, but she also gives the audience a true sense of his personality.
"With photography, I think I can get images of the world that are usually hidden, forbidden," Morell says during the film. "We all need some way to observe life."
And indeed, Morell's observations on life are ones which everyone can appreciate. His photographs are intense and spectacular. Not only do they demand attention with blazing landscapes and city skylines splashed across bedroom walls, but they also draw the viewer inward with deep shadows, stark contrasts and precise order.
In addition to his camera obscura prints, Morell also photographs books, money, and his children. Perhaps the most real and intimate moments of the documentary are not the shots of Morell meticulously planing his photographs, but instead the candid instances in which his children interact with his work. At one point, Morell calls in his son to critique a shot of a mangled, twisted, waterlogged book, and his son simply says, "You need to put more light on it." The raw film work by Humenuk exposes the normalcy of life, even for someone as brilliant as Morell.
Following the film screening, both Humenuk and Morell were present to field questions from the audience. Morell gave further insight into his work when responding to a question about that lack of color in his photos.
"When I went to Cuba, I wanted to make things dramatically different from what I see now," said Morell. "I wanted to make pictures as if they were gothic. The opposite of fun. Almost like Hawthorne in Havana."
Morell's depiction of Cuba represents the struggle and oppression endured by his relatives who still live there.
"The Photographs of Abelardo Morell" will be on display in Portland at the University of New England from November 30, 2007, until January 27, 2008.
Bowdoin's own collection of Morell photographs can be seen daily in the Daggett Lounge, which is located just outside Thorne Dining Hall. All of Abelardo Morell's prints, including his early works and all of his camera obscura photographs, are available on his Web site.