Photographer Gets Lots of Exposure

Leslie Brokaw
The Boston Globe

Cuban-born and Brookline-based Abelardo Morell has been making photographs since 1969, seven years after he came to the United States as a teenager. He modeled himself at first, he says, after Robert Frank, Diane Arbus, and Henri Cartier-Bresson, creating black-and-white images of people and faces. Years later he found his defining style: creating surrealistic interior shots that overlap the simple objects of a room - an ironing board, a bed - with upside-down images from the world outside, projected onto walls courtesy of mirrors and a camera obscura, which Morell builds on-site for his projects.

They're the work of a man who has grappled with the idea of place and family; they show, he says, that ``when you feel alone, there's actually a lot more of the world coming into your space than you think."

On Tuesday, a solo exhibition called ``A Room With a View: The Photography of Abelardo Morell" opens at the Mead Art Museum on the Amherst College campus. It's going to be a busy month for the photographer: Along with the Mead exhibit, he's also got a solo show opening in Buenos Aires, a group show in New York at the Phillips de Pury gallery, and a film about his life coming to the Museum of Fine Arts.

``Shadow of the House: Photographer Abelardo Morell," which got a sneak preview at the MFA last April and its big premiere at the Independent Film Festival of Boston, returns to the MFA for six shows.

Like the 2001 documentary ``Rivers and Tides," one of the best films about an artist at work, Cambridge filmmaker Allie Humenuk's documentary immerses itself in the patient, unglamorous work of creation.

Where Thomas Riedelsheimer's ``Rivers and Tides" opened with Andy Goldsworthy plucking icicles from seaside rocks to create ice sculptures that he photographed at dawn, Humenuk's film opens in a spare room in which Morell is hanging black tarps with heavy tape to create an enclosed, lightless space - an ad hoc camera obscura. It's through a tiny hole in the tarp that he makes his signature work.

Humenuk was drawn to the project almost by accident. ``It started as a short film about [Morell] going to Paris," she says. ``I chose that because he hadn't left the country for a long time. Traveling was going to be a big deal, and I thought it might bring up all kinds of issues about being an immigrant and having left Cuba and the notion of home."

That was seven years ago. While in Paris, she ``realized it was going to be much more," and from 1999 to 2006 she collected about 150 hours of footage of Morell at work, Morell in conversation, Morell teaching (he's a professor at the Massachusetts College of Art), and, for what ends up being about the last third of the film, Morell on his first trip back to Cuba, revisiting his home and making images that end up at the International Center of Photography in New York.

After so many years, how did she know when her film was done? ``Something about being behind the camera slows me down," says Humenuk. ``You need to wait for something to finish, and you can't preempt that." The Cuba trip and the way it played out signaled a close.

Humenuk and Morell will be at the MFA on opening night, on Sept. 13 at 8 p.m., and on Sept. 15 at 1:45 p.m., which includes a post-Q&#ampA reception. There are four additional shows through the end of the month. Morell's Amherst exhibit runs through January, with an artist lecture on Sept. 20 at 4:30 p.m. Information about the MFA dates is at 617-267-9300 and; information about the Mead show is at

CONVERSATIONS WITH: Director Joe Swanberg's ``Hannah Takes the Stairs," which played the Independent Film Festival of Boston earlier this year and at the Harvard Film Archive as part of its recent ``Independents Week: New American Independent Cinema" series, gets its proper area premiere at the Brattle Theatre starting Friday and running through Sept. 20.

Swanberg and star Greta Gerwig, who plays a young woman trying to figure out what she likes and who she loves, will be at the Brattle for Q&#ampAs on Friday at 7 p.m. and Saturday at 9:30 p.m.

Writer Matt Zoller Seitz recently noted in The New York Times that ``For devotees of recent D.I.Y. moviemaking, `Hannah' will evoke melancholy feelings, and not just because the heroine finds [probably temporary] bliss without seriously examining her preconceptions." Jamaica Plain filmmaker Andrew Bujalski, who also stars in ``Hannah" and directed ``Funny Ha Ha" and ``Mutual Appreciation," is, Seitz writes, writing a movie for Paramount, while ``Hannah" costar and fellow indie director Mark Duplass and his brother and partner, Jay Duplass, ``are writing and directing features for Universal and Fox Searchlight and have sold a television series to NBC."

``In light of all this, `Hannah' plays like an incidental swan song," writes Seitz, before ``its most acclaimed practitioners moved on to bigger things. Mr. Swanberg's third movie is a graduation photo in motion: D.I.Y., class of '07." For show times, contact the Brattle at 617-876-6837 and

SCREENINGS OF NOTE: If you're on the Cape and looking for an excuse to blow off the holiday traffic and come back Tuesday, an Australian thriller called ``Noise" is getting what organizers say is its US theatrical premiere at the Payomet Performing Arts Center in North Truro tomorrow at 8 p.m. ``This is very exciting for us out on the Cape - the land the movie companies forgot - especially since this is the very first year of our Independent Film Series at Payomet," says programmer Rebecca M. Alvin of the Cape Cod Film Society Screening Series. ``Noise" played the Sundance Film Festival last January (508-487-5400 and

Three options for Thursday: ``Running With Arnold," a documentary about Arnold Schwarzenegger's gubernatorial campaign in California, by Brandeis University grad Dan Cox, plays for free at 7 p.m. at the Wasserman Cinematheque on the Brandeis campus in Waltham. Cox will attend and take questions afterward. This is the first in a new series at the school called ``Cinematheque Thursdays" (781-736-2270). Also free on Thursday at 7 p.m. is ``Favela Rising," a documentary about fighting violence with music, at the Regent Theatre in Arlington as part of the Brazilian Independence Day Festival (781-646-4849 and And at the Coolidge Corner Theatre, it's the third annual Best of Open Screen, with the quirkiest home movies, works in progress, and general film stuff that showed up during the monthly sessions over the last year. That's at 7:30 p.m. (boston

Leslie Brokaw can be reached at