Having completed the first tour sponsored by the Orthodox Arts Journal, which took place in June of 2023, I’ve been considering how to share some of the four-thousand photographs I captured. The tour was a resounding success, visiting thirty monasteries and many other churches and cathedrals. Because of the volume of splendid things we saw, I have decided to publish a series of photojournalism posts. Each one will highlight a specific aspect or category of liturgical arts, illustrated with photos from the tour.
I will begin with a group of wide-angle interior portraits, carefully chosen to illustrate the gorgeous play of light and shadow in these fine old churches. Medieval Orthodox architecture is spatially complex in the extreme, with a hierarchy of illumination – brightest at the central dome, and fading to shadow and mystery at the periphery. It was clear to us on this tour that the play of natural illumination is perhaps the single most distinctive and moving feature of these ancient churches. The light always calls first attention to the iconostasis, the liturgical centerpiece of the space, while the darker outer spaces contribute an ethos of infinite expanse, eternal mysteries, hesychastic stillness.
Our tour began in Belgrade where the churches are not so old. I was interested to see that even the baroque churches of recent centuries, which lack the spatial complexity of medieval architecture, exhibit incredible beauty of light. The windows are carefully placed to illuminate the iconostasis from the side, causing the carving and gilding to sparkle with brilliant light and shadow. It is with these relatively ‘modern’ Belgrade churches that we will begin, then moving south to the fortified Serbian monasteries. Part 2 will address Kosovo and Metohija, and Part 3, North Macedonia.
Most of my photos were taken using a Laowa 20mm zero-distortion shift lens, which allows for wide-angle images with no vertical distortion in the perspective. My Nikon D750 camera optimizes rich colors and high contrast, to emphasize the natural play of light and shade. Many thanks to our local guide, Ivan Krucican, for negotiating permission to take pictures, and for requesting that electric lights be shut off so that we could enjoy the churches in natural illumination.
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