Abelardo Morell’s ‘Tent-Camera’ Photographs


Morell’s ‘tent-camera’ photographs extend the dizzying scope of the camera obscura concept. First used in the nineteen century to record views of the American West, Morell’s tent photographs took inspiration from the Westerns he had loved as a child in Cuba. He asked a Californian tentmaker to make him a bespoke prefab dome tent with a periscope protruding from the top to project images of the outside environment onto the ground. Taking the tent around the national parks of North America and erecting it on the rooftops of New York, he used the periscope to project the outside world onto the interior ground of the tent. Switching from sheet film to digital equipment reduced his exposure times, allowing him to capture fleeting light.

The tent-camera photographs have a painterly quality arising from the meeting of two outdoor realities on the ground within the tent. “I love the increased sense of reality that the outdoors has in these new works,” he says. “The marriage of the outside and the inside is now made up of more equal partners.” First used before the invention of photography itself, the tent-camera technique connects Morell to the historic dawn of the photographic age, to a time when the intrepid inventors of the medium had to toil to bring an image into existence. He says that he draws satisfaction from working physically hard to reach the uncanny effects of the tent-camera: “To me, taking my time and working like the nineteenth century photography pioneers makes me feel as if I have earned the results. Abstraction resulting from working on the solid ground places me in a tradition of work that I like very much. To make everything up in Photoshop would be dreadfully boring and ultimately unconnected to life.”

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