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Morell Meets Homer

POSTED BY , ON June 21, 2013, Comments Off

Abelardo Morell, whose retrospective The Universe Next Door opened June 1, has become known for making pictures that get to the heart of photography. He has turned entire rooms into cameras, employing a phenomenon that has been known since antiquity: that light entering a darkened room (“camera obscura”) through a small aperture will project an image, upside-down and reversed, on the opposite surface. More recently, he has been making pictures with the tent camera, a kind of portable camera obscura he designed himself. A lens in the top of the tent projects the outside scene onto the ground—whether rocks, sand, grass, or city sidewalk—and he then photographs the combination of the two.

Morell’s influences, however, are not strictly from the field of photography. In fact, he finds himself looking more to painting for models. When he was a student at Bowdoin College in Maine, he discovered Winslow Homer, the 19th-century painter who so famously depicted the New England landscape, especially the sea. One of the foremost scholars of Homer, Philip Beam, taught at Bowdoin, and Morell—who had dropped out of college but remained in town working at the university art museum—ended up photographing numerous paintings and book reproductions for the professor.

With his tent camera, Morell says he now feels more like a painter. In the Modern Wing’s Bucksbaum Gallery, where the tent camera pictures are on view, you can see how gravel on a Manhattan rooftop starts looking like pointillist dots, or how cracked earth along the Rio Grande begins to mimic thick flourishes of paint. He took his tent camera to Winslow Homer’s home and studio in Prouts Neck, Maine, an isolated stretch overlooking the ocean, where the painter lived and painted seascapes for much of his last 25 years. Morell positioned the tent over a patch of sandy grass and directed the periscope lens onto the sea. The resulting picture shows wisps of clouds over the ocean’s horizon, rendered more abstract through the tangled mesh of plants. In an homage to an artist he admired, Morell merged the present and the past and combined painting and photography.

Take a look at this watercolor from the Art Institute’s collection (above) and Morell’s tent camera photograph (below):

Homer, Breaking Storm

Morell, Tent Camera Image

—Elizabeth Siegel, Associate Curator of Photography

Image Credits:

Winslow Homer. Breaking Storm, Coast of Maine, 1894. Art Institute of Chicago, Mr. and Mrs. Martin A. Ryerson Collection.

Abelardo Morell, Tent Camera Image on Ground: View of Sea from Winslow Homer’s Studio Backyard, Prouts Neck, Maine, 2012. High Museum of Art, gift of the artist in honor of Daniel W. McElaney, Jr., 2012.218.

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Opening Tomorrow: Abelardo Morell

POSTED BY , ON May 31, 2013, Comments Off

You have two choices:

You can click on the video above to hear photographer Abelardo Morell talk about his work, inspirations, and his parents’ dancing skills.

Or you can visit the museum tomorrow to hear from the artist himself. In celebration of the opening of Abelardo Morell: The Universe Next Door, the artist will be giving a talk in Rubloff Auditorium. The talk is free with museum admission and begins at 12pm.

Either way, you’re in for a treat!

Work of the Week: St. Patrick’s Day Edition

POSTED BY , ON March 15, 2013, Comments Off

 Women Are Beautiful

Gary Winogrand’s publication Women Are Beautiful (above) is an actual binder full of women. This portfolio includes 85 photographs of women that were originally presented at New York’s Light Gallery in 1975. The images highlight Winogrand’s signature aesthetic that encouraged appreciation of chance juxtapositions and an erratic shooting style.

One of the images showcases a group of women in the annual St. Patrick’s Day parade in 1975. If you’re a Chicago resident, it’s easy to tell that the group is traveling down State Street with the Chicago Theatre and the El in the background. Although at this time, the Chicago Theatre was a movie theater—don’t miss The Godfather or the Clint Eastwood double feature! All of the images are currently on view in the museum’s photography galleries.

Winogrand

Work of the Week: Lambri

POSTED BY , ON March 01, 2013, Comments Off

I’ve been a fan of Luisa Lambri since seeing her work at the MCA a few years ago, so I was happy to see the recently-acquired Untitled (Strathmore Apartment 13) hanging up in Griffin Court. Lambri’s work offers an inverse and unorthodox version of architectural photography. Rather than explicitly depicting a structure, her images describe an experience of inhabiting a space at a specific moment. Lambri photographed Richard Neutra’s Strathmore Apartment in Los Angeles from the inside looking out. Venetian blinds obscure the view, giving us a scant look at the balcony and trees beyond the window. She pays tribute to the design of the building with a composition marked by rigidly organized symmetry and repetition—the stuff of modernist architects’ dreams. But then she contrasts the rigidity with sunlight streaming through the slats of the blinds—the stuff of photographers’ dreams. The result is nearly abstract despite containing very recognizable elements, and I could look at it all day long.

Luisa Lambri. Untitled (Strathmore Apartment 13), 2002.

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Now Open—Irving Penn: Underfoot

POSTED BY , ON January 17, 2013, 1 COMMENTS

Irving Penn is most famous for his fashion photography, still lifes, and portraiture, but Irving Penn: Underfoot (which opens today in the Modern Wing’s Bucksbaum Gallery) explores an often overlooked topic right outside the artist’s door. Instead of looking at the world around him, Penn pointed his camera to the ground to capture what former Art Institute director James Wood referred to as the “cosmos underfoot.”

I have to admit, the first time I saw an image of one of these photographs on my computer screen, I began making galactic associations. To me, the white spots across the pavement do resembled clusters of stars across the night sky. But as I looked more closely at images, I began to pick out objects: matches, twigs, cigarettes. Suddenly, my comet-like objects came into focus. They were chewed gum! Never before have I examined a dirty piece of sidewalk so intently. A sort of odd beauty is created in the subtleties of the photographs.

Besides 36 gelatin silver prints—presented complete for the first time—the exhibition also includes the tools Penn used to create the photographs. For most of them, he used a medium-format Hasselblad camera specially fitted with tubes to extend the lens nearly to the ground.

Irving Penn: Underfoot is open through May 12.

Image Credit: Irving Penn. Underfoot XXIV, 2000. The Art Institute of Chicago, gift of The Irving Penn Foundation in memory of James Wood. © by The Irving Penn Foundation.

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