By Artists Info's History of Art Blogger, Naomi Phelan MA
I work in a college teaching Historical and Contextual studies on a variety of Art and Design courses, and over the years I have taught the history of Photography, Graphics, Interior Design, Art and Fashion & Clothing. Much of that time is spent discussing individual students’ contextualisation of personal projects and self-initiated briefs, which as you can imagine can be as far reaching as the disciplines that they are studying. On a daily basis I am either being introduced to (by the students), or have discovered through my own research, new artists and designers in the broadest sense - that excite me, and inspire my continuing interest in the subject. One moment I am waxing lyrical about a 1920s fashion illustrator and the next a contemporary artist who uses taxidermy in their work. Whether reading a fascinating book on Trade and Still Life in 17th Century Holland, or getting my nose stuck in a contemporary photography magazine, I think it is fair to say that my love of looking, discovering and knowing just grows and grows and grows.
Recently I read my way through Neil MacGregor’s A History of the World in 100 Objects, which was the companion book to the radio 4 series that I knew about, but had not had the pleasure of listening to. Coincidently a colleague had set a project for his students to write about an art object / article / experience / advert etc. that they had found, on a daily basis – the One a Day Book. As part of my remit, I had taken over the task of checking and discussing these daily journals with the students, who I had found to be struggling a bit to keep up. In solidarity I announced that I would do the same project, and that I too would keep a One a Day Book, to broaden my general art knowledge and to keep me constantly looking at more things. As with MacGregor’s book, if you take one object (entry) at a time, they soon add up to a fascinating collection until one starts to see that a journey has taken place, stopping of at places you would not expect to visit and other places you did not expect to exist. It is for this reason that I thought I would share some of those little discoveries that I find on the way with you – just quickly, informally and enough for you to go and have a look at. You could even do the ‘One a Day Book’ challenge yourself!!
In some ways I suppose I cheated with this one, as I was aware of his existence before starting my One a Day Book, but wanted to re-visit his work as I had only passed him fleetingly the first time round. I initially fell in love with Morell’s work back in 2005, when I was investigating artists who had used historical interiors as a basis for their photographic work as part of my MA.
His work with the camera obscura in Italy (and other locations) were/are quite simply beautiful – very modest in concept although difficult to achieve with such clarity.
As one continues to explore his work, you will find that his photography is far reaching and covers a range of subject from Money to Theatre, Museums to Childhood – all beautifully orchestrated and observed to feel that a story is being told. For me, looking at Morell’s work is a bit like when I hold something of historical value in my hands. I turn it round and wonder who owned this? Where has it been? What stories could it tell if it could speak? I suppose when viewing his photography, I feel like I am witnessing something unusual, temporary, a moment when I have been fortunate enough to visually eves-drop on something that I know is very beautiful.