Meet the Artist: Abelardo Morell on “Camera Obscura Image of Manhattan View…”

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Hi, I’m Abe Morell I’m delighted to be here at the Smithsonian American Art Museum speaking about an old work of mine, an old friend who I haven’t seen in a while. This photograph I made in 1996. I knew a guy whose brother owned a nice apartment on the east side with a great view so I contacted him. This was an amazing place. It had just been sold and so it was empty and perfect, like a studio. I wanted to in some ways own New York. The New York that was in some ways frightening to me and I was unable to make sense of it. New York City is really hugely important for me. I arrived in Miami with my parents and sister in 1962. Then my father got a job as a Super in New York City on West 69th Street. New York was frightening at first, I had seen all those movies when I was a kid of a New York scene with gangsters, but it was also a salvation in a city of ambition. Things were happening there, so it was a very important. It was my my next home as it turn out and I still look at it as the place that really saved me. Camera obscura is any space, it could be a room or a box, with a small opening looking out into the world. What happens with these dark interiors is that the image of the outside actually gets projected upside-down on the opposite wall. It just comes in, there is no technical invention with it, it just came with the creation of the world. I wanted to make pictures where I would make a room into a camera obscura where the image would be projected on the opposite side and then make a picture of it. To me, that’s what distinguishes this work from anything before it. The way I made this picture was first of all to cover all the windows with black plastic to darken it. Then on one of the windows, I made a hole about 3/8th of an inch, the size of a dime and this came in and it was kind of astonishing. I put the ladder in there, we used the ladder to hang plastic, but I put the ladder in there to make it a little bit more interesting. In fact, unconsciously I was referring to Fox Talbot who was the British inventor of photography. He made the first photographs other than Daguerre. In one of his pictures, there is a ladder in it, so it’s a small joke to ten people, but it’s a reference to some of the earliest photographs where that ladder exists. I feel rather proud that this picture is in here, especially being in the mix of so many people who are heroes of mine. It’s nice to also be represented as a Latino artist who is making work that is not just in a ghetto of Latino artists. I’d like to emphasis that. As much as I am a Cuban, I’m also a person with abstract ideas. Those are not mutually exclusive. It’s really important to represent everybody, even people who are supposed to be a certain ethnicity showing a freedom to make work. That’s also part of being Cubano and Latin American and human.


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