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This year marks the 200th anniversary of the birth of naturalist, writer, and philosopher Henry David Thoreau. The Concord Museum, located in his hometown of Concord, Massachusetts is celebrating with a year-long series of exhibits and programs. One of the first exhibits is called Walden: Four Views, and is the result of a collaboration between the museum and the photographer Abelardo Morell whose four large scale images are a visual interpretation of Thoreau’s tome Walden, and the pond that inspired it.
After wandering through the museum – a treasure trove of daily Colonial era artifacts and heirlooms of 19th century Transcendentalists – I headed to the final two galleries to view Morell’s images, which are refreshingly contemporary. Each was made using a different technique, offering four alluring interpretations of the historic small lake. As I entered, there is a handsome black and white landscape of the woods bathed in fog with slight hints of shimmering water through the trees. Upon closer inspection, I realized the image is a composite of several photographs. It offers the viewer a serene sense of the woods, of the changing spaces and rhythms of the trees as one might see wandering the trail that circumnavigates the pond. An accompanying quote from Thoreau describing the experience of being lost in the woods bringing a greater understanding of the “vastness and strangeness of Nature.”
In the same gallery, there is a color image of the pond seen through a layer of texture. Looking closely, the viewer will realize it’s the sand of Walden’s beach, making the image just as visually fascinating by the square inch as the whole. We learn from an accompanying diagram that Morell has employed a Camera Obscura, a technique he is well known for, in making this image. Fashioning a tent pitched on the beach, Morell added a lens and mirror at the top in order to project the view of the pond onto the rocks and sand of the ground. Inside the tent, a camera was set up to make an exposure of the projected image. An accompanying Thoreau quote describes the changing color of Walden’s water being blue and green at the same time, lying between heaven and earth.
The most traditionally crafted photograph pays homage to Thoreau’s interest in maps and measurements. Morell directed his lens straight down to the ground, but covered several twigs, rocks and leaves with flour in the shape of Walden Pond. It’s a stunningly beautiful image in its simplicity, and Thoreau’s accompanying words describe the depth of the pond, and man’s belief in the infinite. Perhaps the white flour can be interpreted as a cloud on the ground or a reminder that the pond freezes in the grip of each winter in an eternal loop of the seasons. Indeed, in the 19th century, Walden Pond’s ice was harvested and some was shipped to India, inspiring Thoreau to write, “the pure Walden water is mingled with the sacred waters of the Ganges.”
In the final image, Morell considers the water of the pond in a gorgeous cameraless “cliché verre” print of undulating waves. We learn from a technical note that “cliché verre” means glass picture, and was a technique used in 19th century France to create prints using hand-painted glass. Morell manipulated ink on glass with brushes, rollers and other tools, then digitally scanned the plate to make the photographic print. He says, “it allows for drawing, painting and photography to all be in the same boat.” The print is dazzling to become immersed in, but my bias as a photographer has me regretting that the image itself is not a photograph, but a drawing of the seductive waters of the Ganges and of Walden Pond.
This small but satisfying show had me contemplating notions of the environment, our place as humans within the landscape of sky and ground, of trees and water and the interconnectedness of nature, all inspired by one small pond.
Suzanne Révy is a fine art photographer who creates visual diaries of her family’s life and is a Contributing Writer to What Will You Remember? Earning her BFA from the Pratt Institute and MFA from the New Hampshire Institute of Art, Révy has worked as Photography Editor at U.S. News & World Report and Yankee Magazine and has exhibited her work at museums and galleries throughout New England and in New York. Révy is currently on the faculty at the New England School of Photography and a Board Member of the Photographic Resource Center in Boston.
Feature Image: Walden: Pond/Tent Camera Image, 2016 (detail) Courtesy of Abelardo Morell and the Concord Museum.
Walden: Four Views
at the Concord Museum through August 20, 2017
A lecture is planned for March 27th at the Fenn School
A gallery talk with the artist is planned for Thursday, June 22nd, 2017
A Camera Obscura Workshop with the artist for Saturday, June 24th, 2017
More information can be found on the Concord Museum’s website