John Metcalfe was CityLab’s Bay Area bureau chief, covering climate change and the science of cities.
Photographer Richard Silver bends the vaulted ceilings of churches into surreal, dazzling designs.
Photographer Richard Silver was walking around New York several years ago when he happened to enter a church with an “amazing amount of work on the ceiling.” So he aimed his camera and—click, click, click—took a series of snaps in a broad, overhead arc from one end of the building to the other. A little post-shoot editing later, and he had the entire ceiling laid out in one image, like a sprawling carpet made from ornamental stone and holy glass.
Silver has tried his hand at experimental photography before, stitching together “time-slice” landscapes that show famous monuments progressing from dawn to dusk in one composed image. But it’s his “vertical churches” that occupy much of his time as a member of Remote Year, a travel company that arranges lodging and office space for people who want to work remotely abroad. “Once I played around and perfected the technique, I now use it as I travel the world,” says the 55-year-old New Yorker.
So far this year Silver has hit up 20 cities from Mexico down to Buenos Aires, always sniffing around for a lovely place of worship to explore. “I have tried in other large buildings but it works perfect for what I am looking to accomplish,” he says. “I shoot any church or cathedral that is open when I am there, and if they allow me to take photos.” Sometimes his creations are quietly beautiful, like the blue-pastel vaults of Panama City’s Parroquia Nuestra Señora del Carmen, and sometimes they’re freaky, like the indigo alien pelt tacked to the roof of Iglesia de los Capuchinos in Cordoba, Argentina.
“It was located in the center of town and it was so ornate on the outside as well as the inside, too,” he says. “It reminded me of St. Stephen’s Cathedral in Vienna with the blue ceilings, just beautiful.”
How exactly is Silver creating these bizarre tableaus? Well, he starts with a Nikon with a squat 14-24mm lens to capture as much width as possible. “I take anywhere from five to nine shots in total, like anyone would shooting a panorama, but I shoot from the pew, up, and shoot the ceiling through the back of the church,” he says. “I use Lightroom then Photoshop to put them together in the panorama mode. It is trial and error many of the times.”
Silver will be hitting up more cities in the coming months in Asia and Europe. Keep abreast of his “vertical churches” and other work at Remote Silver; meanwhile, here are some more fruits of his trek through Latin America.