Since 2011, Brooklyn-based photographer Richard Silver has photographed the ceilings of churches and cathedrals around the world, capturing the entireties of their vaulted architectures with sharp precision. Each is a panoramic image that also includes the building’s altar and entrance, forming a dizzying view that allows for close scrutiny of every structural line and ornamental detail without one having to crane one’s neck. Shot from the heart of their spaces — that lies perfectly centered on the picture plane — the cathedrals splay their interiors, with some resembling the hulls of arks and others the anatomies of colorful arthropods.
Primarily a travel photographer, Silver frequently pays visits to the churches and cathedrals of the cities he explores. Inside, he finds a spot along the center of the nave to photograph the entire area, starting from the front pews and moving towards the narthex. Each final panorama usually consists of five to nine shots, which he then stitches together in Photoshop. When the photographs are viewed together, it’s especially interesting to see how the overall spaces still adhere to the same basic skeletal form while the different building blocks of the cathedrals — the arches, clerestory windows, pilasters, among other features — differ so much.
Silver has also focused on both historical and contemporary buildings; the collection presents a diverse array of decorative trends from around the world. The 18th-century cathedral in Havana — which combines Baroque and Neoclassical elements — boasts an elaborate ceiling with painted figures, as does the Cathedral of the Holy Name in Mumbai, built in the 1960s. Contrasting sharply with these are Johannesburg’s Cathedral of Christ the King (completed in 1958) — designed with a lattice-patterned roof that echoes the geometries of its stained glass windows — and Reykjavík’s parish church Hallgrímskirkja, whose architect opted for a completely bare interior. Most recently, Silver photographed St. Patrick’s Cathedral in New York City, personally invited by the archdiocese of New York (via Twitter, of all sources of communication). With restoration efforts recently completed, the building gleams in the resulting photograph, its plaster ceiling resembling smooth, white marble.