This and That

Random bits of my life

Photowalk at the Monastery of the Valley of the Cross

Posted by Avital Pinnick on August 27, 2010

I signed up for a photowalk that was advertised in the AACI (Association of Americans and Canadians in Israel) bulletin, let by photographer Douglas Guthrie. I had never done a photowalk before and it sounded interesting. I think there were seven of us, not including the large group of Greek pilgrims that preceded us.

The Monastery of the Valley of the Cross is located in the Rehavia neighbourhood of Jerusalem, not far from Gan Sacher and the Israel Museum. The current building complex dates from the eleventh century, and was built on the spot where the tree believed to have been used in the cross of Jesus had grown. An earlier monastery was constructed in the fourth or fifth century, but very little remains from that period. Most of the current site dates from the crusader period, with some nineteenth century additions and renovations. It’s constructed like a fortress, with a small, low doorway to keep out invaders and high, smooth walls. The monastery is open to the public (15 shekels).

This photo taken in the courtyard shows the ornate style of the top floor, a later addition to the crusader-era building.

Courtyard, Monastery of the Valley of the Cross

A small museum houses a collection of vestments, chalice veils, carvings, cooking implements, and icons. This photograph is a detail of the gears of the old clock mechanism that was in the tower.


Monastery of the Valley of the Cross

I was the only one who brought a tripod. I thought it would be overkill but it turned out to be essential for the photographing the church and the museum. The interiors were very dark. The beam of sunlight below was not photoshopped but I did underexpose the shot slightly to emphasize the light.

Angels in the Light

Just to give you an idea of the dark interior and difficult lighting, here’s a view of the right side of the nave taken with a single exposure.

Monastery of the Valley of the Cross

The photo below  is a HDR image of the church. The flattening of the three exposures shows many more details of the frescoes. The frescoes themselves are not in very good shape. They are faded and badly damaged.

Monastery of the Valley of the Cross

Iconostas photographed using ambient light and tripod:

Monastery of the Valley of the Cross

The eye in the triangle represents the eye of God and the Greek letters mean “the eternal one” — ‘o ων, if I remember correctly. It’s been a long time since I had to use my knowledge of iconography or Greek.

Eye of God

Fresco above doorway depicts Jesus flanked by his mother Mary (the Theotokos) and John the Baptist (the Prodromos).

Monastery of the Valley of the Cross

Lamps hanging over the right aisle:

Monastery of the Valley of the Cross

The photowalk itself was an interesting experience, although I don’t think I took very good photos. On the one hand, it was a good opportunity to set up a tripod and take lots of photos without feeling conspicuous. The safety-in-numbers aspect was definitely a positive factor. Those who wanted advice on technique were able to get help from Douglas, who was a patient teacher.

But I found that I did a lot less thinking than I normally do when shooting by myself. Afterwards, as I went through the photos, I kept thinking, “Oh, why didn’t I use this particular lens? Why didn’t I try to get a detail of that interesting object?” I think my photos were competent but not particular inspiring from an artistic standpoint. If I go on another photowalk, I’ll have to try not to get distracted by people around me and to think more about what I’m doing.

6 Responses to “Photowalk at the Monastery of the Valley of the Cross”

  1. Well that sure seems like one very worthwhile photowalk judging by the shots you captured… They’re amazing…

  2. aswirly said

    What beautiful shots you captured on your walk. I especially love the scene of the first one.

    • Avital said

      Thanks, Amber! Now I wish I’d spent more time photographing the courtyard. Oh, well, now that I know they’re open regular hours and are within walking distance maybe I’ll give it another go some day.

  3. Adina said

    Avital, I disagree with you; I think these photos are positively inspirational! I hope you sent copies of them to the Church to use in their publicity brochures. The colors and details are wonderful. I can just imagine what you would’ve done if you concentrated when taking the pics!

    • Avital Pinnick said

      Thanks, Adina. One thing I learned from taking lots and lots of pictures is that if I’m not feeling inspired, then at least the photos I do take are reasonable, instead of going straight into the trash! Next time I’ll do my homework. I should have read up on the site and checked out photos on the Web so that I had a better idea of lighting conditions. Boy, am I glad I brought the tripod, though! The church interior would have been a real bear to shoot without it. Glad you liked the photos!

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