Wednesday, February 1, 2017


I had the privilege of doing a photo shoot of the St. Sava Serbian Orthodox Cathedral earlier this week.  The venue has an architecturally interesting exterior and a stunning interior--a real gem that I think has been under-appreciated, perhaps because the facility is not generally open to the public.  I called the cathedral offices a number of times to secure permission to spend time photographing the interior of the cathedral.  The personnel, including the priest, were very gracious in allowing me broad access, as well as turning on the interior lighting, a great help in getting good images, and I wanted to thank them for that courtesy.

St. Sava's is located on Milwaukee's South Side on a campus that includes American Serb Hall, as well as a school and parish offices.  Construction of the cathedral was completed in 1958.  As the photos later in this post demonstrate, the interior is literally covered in mosaics, generally of a distinctive Byzantine iconographic style.  The mosaics cost some $3 million in 1950s dollars and took 35 years to complete.

Sometimes I spend all my time shooting the interior of a buildings and then fail to get proper images of the exterior.  In this instance I remembered--at the end of the shoot--to get some photos of the exterior also.  This was relatively easy as the building is generally in an open area.  Here are some of the exterior shots of the building generally.

It is interesting that the first photo somehow conveys the sense that the building is small, almost miniaturized.  That may stem from the fact that it is isolated from other structures that may provide some perspective.

Here are a couple of detail shots of pillars at the front entrance of the cathedral, that show stylized eagles.

Now for the interior.  The first shot is from the center of the balcony, an area where I am not always allowed to go.

Here is another shot limited to the sanctuary area that I also took from the balcony.  It includes a peek of the central dome toward the top of the image.  I liked this shot for its combination of curves, resulting in a semi-abstract.

Following is another semi-abstract that focuses on the space above the sanctuary and apse.  I particularly liked this shot for its combination of curves.  Keep in mind that ALL of these surfaces are totally covered with mosaics.

Here are two more shots from the rear of the nave toward the front of the cathedral.

I like these shots because they feature the bands of sunlight across the central aisle.  The second, vertical shot also features the central dome.  I shot these by positioning the camera about 1-1/2 feet off the floor.

Speaking of the dome, here are two shots taken from directly beneath the center of the dome.

Yes, that is Jesus.  Here is another shot of the dome taken at an oblique angle.

As I mentioned, church personnel graciously permitted me to take photos from the sanctuary, which allowed me to take this shot that features both stained glass and the copious mosaics.

Shooting stained glass is generally a challenge because of the great difference in the amount of light coming through the stained glass compared to the light being reflected off the interior surfaces of the church.  So I had to spend some time in post processing to "balance out" these two light sources.

Although the real stars of this show are mosaics, there were a few three-dimensional pieces, including this simple, elegant crucifix.

For this shot I opened up the lens aperture to blur out the background as best I could.

The remainder of images featured here focus on the mosaics.  Here are two photos of the mosaics on the ceiling of the sanctuary and nave.

These mosaics are larger than they may appear.  They spanned the width of the church.  This latter of the two photos includes a portion of the central dome at the top of the image.  Here is a closeup of the mosaic toward the base of that photo.

And following are some other scenes featured in other of the mosaics.

Below is a closeup of the above image that shows the individual mosaic pieces that were employed in the creation of the scene, in this case an angel.

Here is another example, with accompanying closeup.

Finally, there were numerous mosaics with apparent biblical references:

The twelve disciples.

Raising Lazarus from the dead(?)

And a storm on the Sea of Galilee.

I spoke with the priest following my shoot.  He took the time to discuss how the mosaics were created.  They were designed and put together in Venice and then shipped to Milwaukee in segments that were then pieced together.  He pointed out that, because the mosaics are built of colored glass, they are not subject to fading, though he complained that they do need periodic cleaning.  

This was a very enjoyable experience.  I would recommend that anyone who has the opportunity to visit this spectacular venue.


1 comment:

  1. Such beautiful pictures. I would love to visit. Thanks for sharing