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new england literary news | Nina MacLaughlin

Camera obscura images mark bicentennial of Thoreau’s birth

Abelardo Morell’s panoramic photograph of Walden Pond.
Abelardo Morell’s panoramic photograph of Walden Pond.Abelardo Morell

A different view of Walden

There is the actual pond in Concord, with its trails, its cold depths, its sandy rim, its turtles and fish. And there is the pond that lives in our imaginations as the result of Henry David Thoreau’s classic “Walden.’’ Cuban-born and Boston-based photographer Abelardo Morell explores the interplay of the two through a quartet of panoramic photographs that will be exhibited as part of the launch of a year’s worth of celebrations at the Concord Museum marking the bicentennial of Thoreau’s birth.

Morell is best known for his camera obscura work, creating images that bend ideas of interior and exterior. For this exhibit. he took his special tent camera to Walden Pond, and using Thoreau’s journals and writings as guide and inspiration, has made images that defamiliarize the iconic pond. One looks as though printed on polished concrete, showing a familiar shoreline curve against a backdrop of smooth pebbles shining in the light. Another, in black and white, gives an inky, mystical feel to the surrounding forest.

“The collage-like look is this panoramic work is the result of blending many digital images together,” Morell explains. “The entire photograph is invented, but its parts come from real photographic observations.” In that way, it echoes Thoreau’s iconic work. “My artistic aim was to suggest a landscape that resides in our minds as much as underfoot,” Morell says. “Walden: Four Views’’ opens Feb. 10 and runs through Aug. 20.


‘Considering Matthew Shepard’

Lesléa Newman is best known for her children’s book “Heather Has Two Mommies,’’ one of the first to portray a family with same-sex parents. The Western Massachusetts resident’s YA novel in verse, “October Mourning: A Song for Matthew Shepard’’ (Candlewick), was written in response to killing of the gay University of Wyoming student who was beaten, tied to a fence, and left to die in 1998. Composer Craig Hella Johnson looked to Newman’s work, as well as that of poets Michael Dennis Browne and Rumi, and writer, mystic, philosopher, and composer Hildegard of Bingen to create his first concert-length work, a three-part fusion oratorio, “Considering Matthew Shepard.’’ The piece will be performed by the Grammy-winning Conspirare, a group of singers and instrumental chamber ensemble, today at 3 pm at Symphony Hall in Boston. Besides the work of these poets and writers, Johnson also incorporates writing from Matthew Shepard’s journal, as well as his parents.


Building Cambridge

In her foreword to “Building Old Cambridge: Architecture and Development’' (MIT), Harvard historian and New Yorker staffer Jill Lepore writes of finding 19th century artifacts in the walls and under floorboards during a renovation of her Cambridge home. “Every city is a city of buildings,’’ she writes, “and every building houses a history within its walls.’’ It’s an apt introduction to Susan Maycock and Charles Sullivan’s comprehensive look at the history and development of Cambridge, which offers historical treasures throughout. Richly illustrated, including many maps and photographs through time, the Cambridge Historical Commission project traces the architectural development of the People’s Republic through a lens of its social and economic history, emphasizing Cambridge’s past status as a publishing hub. Maycock and Sullivan, the commission’s survey director and executive director, respectively, will discuss their work at the Harvard Coop on Feb. 7 at 7:30 pm.

Coming Out

“This Close to Happy: A Reckoning with Depression’’ by Daphne Merkin (Farrar, Straus and Giroux)

“Divided We Stand: The Battle Over Women’s Rights and Family Values That Polarized American Politics’’ by Marjorie J. Spruill (Bloomsbury USA)


“What We Do Now: Standing Up for Values in Trump’s America’’ edited by Dennis Johnson and Valerie Merians (Melville House)

Pick of the Week

Katalina Gamarra at the Concord Bookshop in Concord recommends “In the Country of Men’’ by Hisham Matar (Dial): “This award-winning novel is a must read. An insightful plunge into Khadafy’s Libya, the story is told through nine-year-old Suleiman’s eyes in a “To Kill a Mockingbird’’-style narration. Suleiman sees his innocent world shift into one where his mother drinks ‘medicine’ excessively, and where his father’s anti-Khadafy work causes men to search and stalk his home. Through Suleiman’s eyes, we see what it’s like to live a normal life flecked with terror.”

Nina MacLaughlin is the author of “Hammer Head: The Making of a Carpenter.” She can be reached at nmaclaughlin@gmail.com.