back bounded-next cafe calendar-large calendar cart close coat-check collapse donate download elevators expand explore filter grid-view hamburger heart hours join link list-view location mail more next nursing-room phone print programs ramp restrooms right-arrow search share shop thumbs-down thumbs-up tickets up toilet heart-filled zoom Skip to Content

Past Exhibitions


Abelardo Morell banner

Abelardo Morell: The Universe Next Door

February 23–May 18, 2014

Photographer Abelardo Morell’s inventive career is driven by creative discovery. He has conceived of new ways of looking at everyday objects and harnessed the basic principles of optics to create unexpected and mesmerizing photographs. The Universe Next Door is a major retrospective and presents more than one hundred of Morell’s works, including a new series commissioned by the High.

Click on an image below to learn more.


Over the past twenty-five years, Abelardo Morell has gained international renown for works that employ the language of photography to explore visual surprise and wonder.

Morell has turned his camera on conveyors of cultural meaning—such as family, books, maps, money, and museums – in extensive series that explore the perception of images. He has experimented with techniques including photograms, still-life tableaux, stop-motion studies, camera obscura, and most recently the tent camera – a portable camera obscura that projects the image of a landscape upon the surface of the ground.

Now, after decades of working exclusively in black and white, Morell has embraced color and returned to old themes and series to view them in a new spectrum. This retrospective of more than one hundred works made from 1986 to the present traces Morell’s innovative career as he continues to mine the essential strangeness and complexity of images.


Born in Cuba in 1948, Abelardo Morell immigrated to the United States with his parents in 1962. He received a scholarship to attend Bowdoin College in Maine, where he took his first photography course. Morell went on to earn a Master of Fine Arts degree from Yale University. In his graduate work, he was influenced by street photographers such as Henri Cartier-Bresson and Robert Frank.

The birth of his son Brady in 1986 marked a turning point in Morell’s career. He began to photograph everyday objects with the wide-eyed wonder with which he witnessed his son confronting the world. With his camera, Morell deconstructs objects laden with cultural symbolism and heaps meaning upon sights we might overlook.

As a professor at the Massachusetts College of Art and Design, Morell amazed his students by transforming his classroom into a giant camera obscura, casting the passing city buses outside the window onto the room’s ceiling. He has since used this technique to uncannily combine exterior and interior spaces in dreamlike tableaux within his work.


The camera obscura (Latin for “dark chamber”), a device that led to the invention of the camera, has been around since antiquity. Whether an entire room or a small handheld box, a camera obscura is a darkened enclosure equipped with a pinhole, or aperture. Light from an external source enters the enclosure through the aperture, resulting in the projection of an inverted image of the outside world on a surface inside. Morell has created camera obscuras all over the world, setting up his tripod-mounted camera inside darkened rooms to record mesmerizing optical events. For some of his photographs Morell placed a prism in the aperture, flipping the image vertically so that it appears upright to viewers.

Morell and an assistant spent a year developing a “tent camera” – a type of portable camera obscura. A periscope at the top of the bottomless tent acts as the aperture, and the outside scene is transmitted onto the surface of the ground. Morell has used this technique to photograph the immense vistas of the American West, among other subjects.


Abelardo Morell is the latest artist to receive the High’s celebrated Picturing the South commission. His new work will be on view to complement the works in the exhibition that span his career. For the commission, Morell focused on representing trees – an iconic subject in the history of photography – in playfully unusual and imaginative ways. In addition to looking at trees of the Southern landscape, he has used a camera obscura to capture their urban counterpoint in several views of the Atlanta skyline.

Through the distinctive Picturing the South initiative, established in 1996, the High commissions established and emerging photographers to produce work inspired by the American South. Past participants include Sally Mann, Dawoud Bey, Richard Misrach, Emmet Gowin, Alex Webb, Alec Soth, Martin Parr, Kael Alford, and Shane Lavalette, whose commissions have all been added to the High’s permanent collection.

Organization and Support

The exhibition was organized by The Art Institute of Chicago, in association with the J. Paul Getty Museum, Los Angeles, and the High Museum of Art, Atlanta.

This exhibition is made possible by the Robert Mapplethorpe Foundation.

Additional support provided by Friends of Morell.

Generous in-kind support for this exhibition is provided by Tru Vue, Inc. and Gemini Moulding, Inc.