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by Luc Sante
Luc Sante begins his introductory essay in Camera Obscura, a study of Abelardo Morell’s work, by likening the technical phenomenon of the camera to a line from Victor Hugo’s poem La Conscience: “L’oeil etait dans la tombe et regardait Cain ( The eye was in the tomb and was looking at Cain. )”[1] The ‘eye’ in this poem refers to the eye of God that from the sky stalked Cain after he killed Abel. The basis of comparison between this excerpt and camera obscura is the shared reference to a relationship between inside and outside. Both ideas feature an element that enters a confined space, a view of the immediate exterior in Morell’s case and the eye of God in La Conscience. In addition, the poetry evokes a mystical and otherworldly connotation similar to Morell’s images.
A large portion of this essay is devoted to retelling the history of the camera obscura. Sante reflects on the curiosity we still hold for the basic photographic process, even in our age of advanced technology.
The text goes on to praise Morell’s work for its unique approach to the centuries-old process. Morell incorporates the method into his photographs by superimposing the inverted projection of the exterior view onto an interior setting. The resulting image shows a collision of scenes, one of which, the exterior, has been removed from its context. The author argues that without a customary frame of reference we have more difficulty processing the projection. The image, a dream state, begs for further inspection.
Sante believes Morell’s work succeeds in depicting the “central contradiction”[2] of objectivity in photography. The projection of the exterior view is objectively true to reality. Conversely, the work is said to speak to the layer of subjectivity inherent in the process of making photographs. The mere ability to project a desired view requires Morell to find a room with access to that view. His search for an interior with a specific view is an analogy for a photographer deciding what to point their camera at. His process exaggerates the intentionality of framing.
This essay examines Morell’s photographs as conceptually rich artworks that subvert basic photographic principles in effort to re-present the familiar. Sante reflects on the photographic medium, the issue of its objectivity and what Morell’s work can offer to the discussion.
[1] Luc Sante, “Introduction,” in Camera Obscura, Luc Sante and Abelardo Morell (New York: Bulfinch Press, 2014).
[2] Sante, “Introduction.”
Luc Sante is a writer and critic on a wide range of subjects including art, history and philosophy.
Sante, Luc. ‘Introduction.’ In Camera Obscura by Abelardo Morell and Luc Sante. New York: Bulfinch Press, 2004.
Review by Lindsay Mamchur
August 2019
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