The Mental Museum

Abelardo Morell

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Camera Obscura: The Pantheon in Albergo Del Sole al Pantheon room #111, Rome, Italy 2008

The camera obscura was one of the first inventions that led to the discovery of photography. It is an optical device that was used as an aid for drawing and represents the first cinematic concepts. The basic notion is that light passing through a single hole will project the image of what the light touches on an opposite wall. The history and evolution of the camera obscura is intricate. Greek philosopher Aristotle and Chinese philosopher, Mozi were the first to experiment with such image projecting concepts. They helped pave the way for Iraqi scientist, Ibn al-Haitham who in fact built the very first camera obscura in the early 1000s AD. Today fine art photographers incorporate these early image capturing concepts into their contemporary work by using pinhole cameras or constructing their own (quite simple) camera obscuras.

Cuban artist, Abelardo Morell is one such photographer. Traveling to various cities around the world, he books hotel rooms overlooking beautiful cityscapes. He transforms his room itself into a camera obscura and projects the outside world into his temporary abode. The finished piece is a photograph of these projections in which he has optically woven the inside with the outside. Morell is currently a professor of photography at the Massachusetts College of Art.

Camera Obscura: View of Central Park Looking North – Summer 2008


Written by thementalmuseum

October 12, 2008 at 4:29 pm

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  1. Thank you for this fascinating post about the camera obscura and especially for bringing attention to Abelardo Morrel’s fascinating work. It is exciting to see the camera obscura used in such a new and haunting way.

    I am happy to see credit given to Alhazen for his contributions to optics. Another layer to that contribution is the fact that he devised the camera obscura to test his hypothesis that “lights and colors do not blend in the air.” Using pinhole technology, he “forced” light rays to intersect at an aperture and recorded the results in his massive study of light and vision, Kitāb al-Manāzir (Book of Optics). As the first person to systematically test hypotheses with experiments, Alhazen deserves recognition not only as the “father of optics” but also as the first scientist. If you or your readers would like to know more about him, I would like to recommend my new book, Ibn al-Haytham: First Scientist. Written for young adults, it is the world’s first full biography of the eleventh-century Muslim scholar known in the West as Alhazen or Alhacen.

    Bradley Steffens

    October 16, 2008 at 4:21 am

  2. If you are interested in Abelardo Morell’s work check out the documentary Shadow of the House – Photographer Abelardo Morell

    Working alone for over 7 years, director Allie Humenuk filmed Morell and his family both at home and abroad. The film beautifully captures the artist and the artistic process. The film is having a successful run in festivals and at museums nationally and internationally. 

    There are screenings coming up at the Philadelphia Museum of Art (Dec 5th, 6pm) and the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston (Dec 11th, 4:30pm) Both Humenuk and Morell will be in attendance. 

For more information on the film visit:


    December 4, 2008 at 8:33 pm

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