Campus News

An Artist's Struggle Ends in the Camera Eye

Story posted October 07, 1999

Before he became a prominent artist, Abelardo Morell developed his unique style of photography the same way many Bowdoin students develop their skills--by constantly questioning what he should do with his life.

Listeners to a gallery talk on Wednesday got a glimpse of photographs taken by Morell when he was still a student at Bowdoin, and learned a bit about his distinctive artistic vision. The insight came from Morellís friend and former teacher John McKee, associate professor of art at Bowdoin.

Morell came to America from Cuba at 14, unable to speak English. He arrived at Bowdoin a few years later and spent 10 years pursuing his degree between breaks to concentrate on work and photography.

"Abe was one of the students who very much enjoyed getting off campus," McKee said.

Morell came to Bowdoin intending to be an electrical engineer, but quickly realized that wasnít for him. He became a religion major, but still had periods of questioning why he was in college, McKee said. He took breaks from school to work as a janitor in Miami and an orderly in New York, among other jobs, and was always taking photographs.

The earliest photograph shown at the talk was one taken of a former professor, sitting on a sofa. The picture is of the whole room in which the man sits. The next photograph is of only a sofa, photographed at such close range that it fills the frame. It shows that Morell was already discovering his special perspective; he often concentrates on small, everyday subjects, and through his photography transforms them into something mesmerizing.

Morell also likes to use disorientation in his work, and has compared a few of his photographs to the dreamlike photographs of Marc Chagall. McKee said. Another photo shown at the talk was taken by Morell when he was a passenger in McKeeís car. Rather than rolling the car window down, Morell snapped the picture through a rain-splattered window--capturing the hazy image of woman walking next to a mural. Morellís ability to see possible photographs where others do not, is one of his strengths, McKee said.

"He was shooting, not at all at abandon, but his eyes were always open," he said.

Another one of Morellís strengths, McKee said, is the ability to act quickly and spontaneously when photographing.

"One of the most interesting things about photography is that it lets you say ĎIím aware of this.í And that you can act on it on the spot," Morell said once in an interview. McKee said the statement perfectly captures Morellís way of thinking.

"Abelardo Morell and the Camera Eye" is on display at The Bowdoin College Museum of Art until Dec. 12. The next gallery talk associated with the exhibition will be at 4 p.m. Wednesday, Oct. 13. Stephen Naculich, associate professor of physics, will speak about some of the optical aspects in photography in a talk titled, "Developments in the Art of Optics: From Camera Obscura to Camera."

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