National Geographic : 2011 May
was "Light Bulb" (above) from 1991. Using sim- ple household materials, Morell illustrated the shape-shi ing workings of a pinhole camera, conveying with the elegance of a Dutch still life how a photographic image forms. Morell next set the challenge of photograph- ing the apparition-like image that forms inside a room that's been turned into a camera obscura. To his knowledge this had never been done be- fore. It took months to engineer the technique, to gure out the right size of hole to allow both brightness and sharpness and to determine the right exposure time, for detail to emerge on lm. en he had to choose a room---with a view. Morell's breakthrough came in his own house in Quincy, a Boston suburb. He set his large- format view camera on a tripod in his son's bed- room, with only a pinprick of light entering, and opened the shutter. He le the room and waited. For eight hours. e result was mesmerizing. The developed picture showed inverted trees and houses from across the street hovering over the boy's toys like a scene from a fairy tale. "I was giddy," Morell said. "It felt like the moment photography was invented." From that eureka moment, Morell has gone on to produce with his camera obscura one of the most original and enthralling bodies of work in contemporary photography. His views range from brazen New York City panoramas to warm Italian vistas. A few years ago he switched to color, enjoying its intensity, and began turning images right-side up with a prism. Replacing lm with a digital sensor, which is more light sensitive, he cut exposure times from hours to minutes, permitting him to capture clouds, shadows, and other eeting atmospher- ics. He is most excited about his work with a oorless tent, a portable camera obscura that he takes to roo ops or parks or city streets to project images directly onto the ground, giving his latest photos a rough-textured grandeur. "I want to refresh how people see the world," says Morell. Melting boundaries between land- scape and dreamscape, his images wake up our eyes. ---Tom O'Neill Duplicating the real thing, a ghostly upside-down image of a lightbulb appears inside a wine box converted to a pinhole camera. In his classic photograph, Morell demonstrates how a camera obscura (dark chamber) image forms. "LIGHT BULB," 1991 LEARN HOW TO MAKE YOUR OWN CAMERA OBSCURA AT NGM.COM OR IN OUR IPAD APP.