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History of Photography

When you look at a photograph from your favorite photographer what do you see? Does it remind you of your past or make you think of the future? What if there was a photographer that made you think of not only the past but also the future as well? Well that is exactly what Abelardo Morell did with his Camera Obscura photographs. Abelardo Morell took Camera Obscura out of the past and brought it into the future. This paper plans to discuss who Abelardo Morell is, the history of Camera Obscura, and also discuss and analyze three or more photographs by Abelardo himself. It will also discuss Abelardo’s career and how Camera Obscura falls into his career as well as any statements from him about the process. Also any writings or responses by art critics and/or philosophers about Abelardo Morell’s work will be included. This paper hopes to bring across to the reader an understanding of Abelardo Morell and Camera Obscura.

“Abelardo Morell was born in Havana. As a child he felt a sense of alienation and isolation in Cuba, feelings that remained when he moved as a teenager with his family to New York City. Although he later studied comparative religion at Bowdoin College, he eventually took up photography as a way to express his feelings as an immigrant to the United States during the turbulent 1960s” (Yorba). Photography took his mind away from all of the busyness the world had. “After earning an MFA from Yale University in 1981, he began teaching at Massachusetts College of Art in 1983, where he still teaches today” (“Site Lines,” Abelardo). Many students are extremely luck to have a mentor such as Morell. He went far and beyond what any other teacher would do for their students. “When I began teaching photography at the Massachusetts College of Art in the mid 1980s, one of the strategies I used to get beginners excited about photography was to convert our classroom into a camera obscura” (Morell).

Camera Obscura might sound like a complicated technique but it really is very simple. One would be surprised how easily it can be done. Even though it can be done very easily and may seem like a new technique, the process has been around for many centuries.

“In 1490, Leonardo da Vinci wrote the earliest surviving description of the camera obscura (dark chamber), a device designed to reproduce linear perspective. The camera obscura, the prototype of the photographic camera, was a large dark room that an artist physically entered. Light entered through a small hole in one of the walls and projected a distinct, but inverted, color image onto the opposite wall that could be then traced” (Hirsh).

“The Camera Obscura seems little short of miraculous, even after the optical rationale has been explained. That one pinhole of light can carry all the visual information of a landscape into a darkened room is still, after many centuries, unknown to the great majority of humans and surprising when they learn of it” (Morell).

To understand it better the camera obscura was a darkened room or chamber that allowed only a pinhole of light to enter into a light tight area through which is called an aperture. Diffraction is what allows camera obscura to work. Diffraction in this sense is the bending of light waves that enter the chamber or room and to appear on the wall opposite of the aperture. This image can be produced with exceptional quality if accomplished in the right way. When viewing the camera obscura while it is taking place, one will notice that the image presented on the wall is inverted due to diffraction. Leonardo da Vinci is said to have developed this technique for drawing but was not credited for it. Later on people began to use it more to render drawings to be perspectively correct. Artists at the same time had a hard time with perspective, so the camera obscura helped advance their skills in drawing with becoming perspectively correct. This device is important to the history of photography because it was one of the first forms of photography and cameras. It showed that, at the same time, advances could be made in photography, something with the means of time and knowledge. The discovery of the “new” technique brought about a need and desire of photography to this day, especially for Abelardo Morell.

When deciding to create a camera obscura there are a few things one should consider before jumping into the mind-boggling technique. The first thing you need to consider is the room that you will be photographing in. This room needs to have at least one window and one entry way. The second factor to consider is the time of day you will be photographing in. The time of day where the light is the brightest is the best time to pull off this magnificent method. Also, look at what is outside of the anticipating room. Is the landscape dull or is it astounding? Depending on how amazing you want your photograph to come out depends on the photographer and the landscape that will be captured.


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