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One day in 1991, the photographer Abelardo Morell turned his Quincy, Mass., home into a camera. Employing an optical principle discovered two millennia before film, he darkened his living room with sheets of black plastic and cut a small hole to make a rudimentary lens. A view of his neighbors' white-sided colonials, rendered upside-down and fuzzy-edged, sprang up on the far wall. Capturing the faint image created by this fully furnished camera obscura ("dark chamber") with a regular camera proved difficult—an exposure of five to 10 hours proved to be the key—but this unusual technique eventually yielded the most striking photos of a superb career.

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