“Things are not always what they appear to be,” says Cuban American photographer Abelardo Morell. Shadow of the House peers into his past and around the corners of his present to see what normally goes unseen. This film is a rare look into the life of one of America’s renowned photographers. A feature length film, Shadow of the House explores how Morell uses his art to make sense of a life up-ended by geographic, cultural, linguistic, and political dislocation. It is an intimate portrayal of how one man’s personal struggle with the themes of loss, exile, and self-determination reflects the ways in which we all work to construct narratives that unite the past with the present and memory with desire. Morell has used this tension to fuel a career as a remarkable artist.
Morell’s life is utterly ordinary on the surface but our understanding of him deepens as layer after layer of the man and the impact of his experiences are revealed: his strange and compelling flight from Castro‘s Cuba in the early sixties, his adolescent years in New York City; his life as an American family man and photographer who is more comfortable working at home but whose career increasingly pulls him into the larger world.
Morell’s artistic process is central to the film. The film makes public the often unglamorous work that precedes the beautiful photographs -- the laborious process of finding locations and setting up rooms and the frustration of failed images. The film reveals the all-consuming nature of his drive to make images, despite what may be going on around him.
Morell has gained international acclaim for his elegant, large format, black-and-white camera obscura photographs that turn the world upside down and marry the inside with the outside, and for his photographs of everyday images from his domestic milieu. When Morell creates a photograph, he mirrors back a transformed space: a paper bag becomes a haunting void; the ocean fills a room; Alice crawls out from within the pages of her Wonderland. The results are photographs of objects we think know, presented in ways that make us question what we know.
Working alone, the director of Shadow of the House filmed Morell and his family for over 7 years both at home and abroad. During the filming, Morell returns to Cuba for the first time since his escape in 1962. This decision, and the intense anger and fear it arouses in his family, forces him to wrestle with his sense of identity, familial allegiance, and cultural politics. Shadow of the House explores the intersection between these issues and Morell’s idiosyncratic artistic vision.
In Morell's words, "A lot of my work tries to disorient you once you get invited in to something that seems normal. I like to suggest that what may be empty is not. When you feel alone there is actually a lot more of the world coming into your space than you think." The film showcases some of Morell’s extensive work and takes the viewer into his private life, uncovering his fascination with the magic of the ordinary.
Allie Humenuk is an award-winning filmmaker and Emmy nominated cinematographer whose short films have been seen nationally and internationally at museums, film festivals and on television. She is primarily known for her work as a cinematographer. Her clients include PBS, MTV, National Geographic and the Discovery Channel. For several years she taught film and video production at Harvard University. Currently, she continues to freelance as a cinematographer. She is also the Executive Producer at Vida Health Communications, Inc. where she makes public health videos about women’s health and childhood development. "Shadow of the House – Photographer Abelardo Morell" is her first feature length documentary.