Art, Exhibitions and Installations, J. Paul Getty Museum, Miscellaneous, Photographs, Film, and Video

My Kid Could Shoot That!—Abelardo Morell’s Work from a Child’s Perspective

Laura and Brady in the Shadow of Our House / Abelardo Morell

Laura and Brady in the Shadow of Our House, 1994, Abelardo Morell (American, born Cuba, 1948). Gelatin silver print. The Art Institute of Chicago, gift of Abelardo Morell, © Abelardo Morell, courtesy of Edwynn Houk Gallery, New York

The world can be a scary place for a kid. Monsters on a movie screen could also easily be lurking under a bed. A garbage truck could be a big green beast ready to gobble up the neighborhood. The imagination of a child is a powerful thing and can be as sinister as it is fantastic. Artist Abelardo Morell set out early in his career to capture a series of images that display the menace and wonder of everyday objects as they appear to a child. Select photographs by Morell are now on view at the J. Paul Getty Museum in Abelardo Morell: The Universe Next Door.

In a conversation with Getty curator Paul Martineau, Morell discusses his family’s journey from Cuba to New York City when he was a child, and how the camera helped him express himself in a way that language could not. However, it wasn’t until the birth of his son, Brady, that he began to consider how a child’s view of the world differs from that of an adult. Looking inward at his own family life, Morell found novel subject matter in domestic interiors. He set aside his hand-held camera in favor of a large-format view camera that necessitated a more deliberate style and elicited a wealth of tactile detail from his subjects.

“I felt, since now I’m a father, then I get to decide what’s important for me,” Morell explains. “It was a subtle liberation, but it allowed me to slow down and start thinking.”

Crawling on the floor with a camera at the eyelevel of a newborn baby, Morell began shooting toys and other objects in a way that reflected the confusing reality of the first years of consciousness. In Toy Blocks (1987), a set of wood cubes with cheery imagery is transformed into a looming Tower of Babel, while in Refrigerator (1987), a common appliance appears as a giant monolith with jumbled letters on it, evoking the preverbal vision of a child.

Toy Blocks / Abelardo Morell

Toy Blocks, 1987, Abelardo Morell (American, born Cuba, 1948). Inkjet print. Courtesy of the artist and Edwynn Houk Gallery, New York, © Abelardo Morell, courtesy of Edwynn Houk Gallery, New York

Refrigerator / Abelardo Morell

Refrigerator, 1987, Abelardo Morell (American, born Cuba, 1948). Inkjet print. Private collection © Abelardo Morell

“I knew that for Brady, being so little, being on the floor, a stack of blocks like that was quite imposing,” Morell explains. “I wanted to suggest the fears and the awesomeness of confronting certain things at an early stage in life.”

Images like Ball (1987) offer a melancholic look at growing up, as a once brilliantly colored toy has faded and is photographed in nostalgic black and white. Dollhouse (1987), according to Morell, “pits the security of our home with the lurking of the outside—not quite dangerous but other.”

Ball / Abelardo Morell

Ball, 1987, Abelardo Morell (American, born Cuba, 1948). Courtesy of the artist © Abelardo Morell

Dollhouse / Abelardo Morell

Dollhouse, 1987, Abelardo Morell (American, born Cuba, 1948). Gelatin silver print. The J. Paul Getty Museum, Los Angeles, © Abelardo Morell, courtesy of Edwynn Houk Gallery, New York

Morell’s photographs—whether they focus on a child’s perspective or use the camera obscura in a new and novel way—all point to the wonder of everyday life, where objects as simple as a pencil or footprint are elevated due to the play of light and shadow. His photographs toy with a static perspective of the world and highlight the seemingly insignificant experiences that have much more than a child-sized impact on our lives.

Footprints / Abelardo Morell

Footprints, 1987, Abelardo Morell (American, born Cuba, 1948). Inkjet print. High Museum of Art, Atlanta, purchased with fund from the Friends of Photography, 2012.213 © Abelardo Morell


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  1. Juvenio
    Posted October 10, 2013 at 1:23 pm | Permalink

    Terrific post! Reminds me (a little bit) of William Eggleston’s use of perspective in this shot:

  2. Museum Stories
    Posted October 21, 2013 at 9:58 am | Permalink

    Love this post! Can’t wait to take my kids and get their POV on these amazing photos.

  3. Jen
    Posted November 4, 2013 at 2:53 pm | Permalink

    I love how this post really puts the vision of a toddler in perspective. I’d be curious to see pictures your kids took as they grew up and their perceptions changed. Photography is such a creative way to get kids started in story telling and enhance their ability to become a strong writer.

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      The histories of many colors are amazing, but cobalt may well have the most brilliant of them all. From the Ming Dynasty to Renaissance Italy, cobalt was a popular glaze for porcelain and other ceramics. Cobalt ink is invisible unless exposed to flame, which turns it a vivid green. In the 17th century, this quality made Europeans believe it was witchcraft, but decades later it was used as a neat trick on fire screens. It wasn’t until 1802 that painters added cobalt to their palette. 

      It is this little tidbit from cobalt’s history that saved master forger Han van Meergeren’s skin after WWII, when he was tried for collaborating with the Nazis. Want to find out how some art history sleuthing and smart science got him a not guilty verdict? Hint: Don’t try to forge a Vermeer with cobalt! 

      Read all about it in The Brilliant History of Color in Art!

      Images, clockwise:

      Glazed earthenware dish with a marchant ship, Italy, about 1510. 

      Glazed earthenware tile floor, Spain, about 1425-50.

      Porcelain lidded vase, China, about 1662-1772.

      All objects from the J. Paul Getty Museum. 


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