The American Room
Beauty lies within simplicity. Amidst the chaos of the outer world, hope for a better life silently sleeps. Until, one day someone takes that hope and lets it guide their life. The United States was founded by dreamers who saw the importance of self-determination and autonomy. Dreaming is free, but turning dreams into reality comes at a price. Abelardo Morell’s photograph, The Empire State Building in Bedroom, uses color, lighting, and perspective as a metaphor for the modern Hispanic immigrant and the American Dream.
The American Dream draws people to leave their motherland in pursuit of a dream, consisting of obtaining economic wealth and a heightened quality of life. In essence, the dream is not to be rich. Rather, the dream is to feel rich. The American Dream is an illusion painted by 20th century Americans settling across the country. The image of a white picket fence house and a suburban lifestyle is the ideal life for many. In Latin America, only the rich can afford that way of living. The poor view the rich as having greater fortune. That is why they turn to America, the land of opportunity, where everyone has the same amount of luck.
Morell uses contrasting colors, such as black and white, to juxtapose the expectations and reality of living in the United States. The white wall and bed serve to highlight the illusion of growth. The wall, which is made out of New York skyline solidifies the saying, “the sky is the limit.” On these bare walls, the immigrant places his hopes. The fact that the wall is made out of the sky, tells us that the person living in the bedroom has his sights set high. That his dream, like that of many other migrants is to be on a higher economic and social standing from which they came from. Unfortunately, the modest demeanor of the room indicates poverty. The bed shelters the American Dream and its dreamer. It is on the bed, where the dream takes form. This is evidenced by the image of the Empire State Building jutting out through the middle of the bed. The American Dream is pure and serene, but it is a just a dream. The bed is being consumed by darkness. Morell creates the image of a floating bed, thus crafting a surreal scene which represents the dream-like state the migrant finds himself within the country.
The lighting of the picture serves to highlight the dangers of the American Dream. The picture’s light appears to come from outside. Morell obscures the corners in order to draw the audience’s gaze towards the center of the photograph. Morell is able to create an image suspended in time. Like the room, an immigrant’s life exists on another plane of reality. The bed, source of dreams, floats and carries the immigrant out of poverty. The light coming from the small hole on the left of the picture serves as the sun, it illuminates the room and is the only source of light. Figure 2 is an oversaturated version of the original. Here the source of can be seen more clearly. The lighting in the picture highlights the bareness of the room. Instead of using the lamp’s light to illuminate the room, Morell opts for this beam of light. Morell darkens the lamp and drawer to signify the tenant’s dark interior. The absence of an internal light source portrays the dwindling courage within the tenant. The small source of light illuminates the whole room. This is a metaphor for hope. Although the Hispanic immigrant loses their internal light source, they use hope as their guiding light.
Morell uses a unique angle to promote the idea of isolation. The camera is not leveled with the bed. It is looking down on the bed as if moving away from the room. Morell’s use of a diagonal viewpoint provokes remoteness between the audience and the dreamer. He disconnects the audience from the bed. He generates uncertainty, a sense of bewilderment, and detachment. This separation from the subject matter puts the audience, as well as the tenant of the room, in limbo. The bed, which is the symbol for rest and comfort, is manipulated to be the only escape. Sleeping and dreaming is the way the renter numbs the outside world. In a way, Morell uses the photograph’s angle to evoke the same feeling of numbness and confusion. The fact that there is nobody in the picture alludes to the universality of Morell’s theme.
Like the room, Morell suggests that the life of a migrant is subject to interpretation. He forgoes including himself in the picture because the room has the ability to be any immigrant’s room. Morell knows that people like exposition and happy endings. The beauty of the photograph comes from not knowing why it was taken or when it was taken. The only context he gives is the inclusion of the Empire State Building. This lets the audience inject their own meaning. He lets them be the occupant of that apartment, and create their own story regarding the significance of the room. There is no particular flag or color to denote a certain ethnicity. There is an eerie aura surrounding the room. What it lacks in material opulence it makes up with the grandness of the Empire State Building. This room is the real American Room, humble but with a lot of courage to succeed. A blank canvas waiting to be painted with diverse colors, styles, and creeds.
Perspective is really important to the photograph because it tells one story, that of the migrant. The original perspective serves to expose the courage and isolation the Hispanic Immigrant lives through in order to attain their American Dream. But if the original is inverted, there is another story being told. The Lamp fuses with one of the buildings, and all of sudden turns into part of the New York skyline. The source of light can be seen as the sun shining on the Empire State Building. The iconic building bends as if overlooking the city and all of the people that look up to it. The bed is now the sky. The Empire State Building was once a dream, and it was turned into a reality. It is contra posed on the bed because it still is the eternal representation of what America is, the beacon of hope for the rest of the world.
Abelardo Morell photographs a modest room with a dream. The dream that many immigrants seek out when leaving their family behind. Some fail, and even die for that dream. Sleepless nights, restless afternoons, and countless hours of work just for the opportunity to step on American soil. The photograph shows no glory, success, or action. Instead, it captures the unflinching uncertainty of the present, motionless and full of doubt. But the beauty of the present, and of this photograph, exists in not knowing what happens next.