The Cloisters Photography Series

The cloisters series is a long term project of mine that began in 2007 in Galicia, Spain.

If I had to reduce the concept down to fundamentals it would be “light and curves”. The extended version includes “order, precision and symmetry”.

“Throughout the ages mystics & theologians have used geometry as a contemplative focus, as it enables the viewer a vision of the underlying order of both the cosmos and the natural world…” 

Quote from Richard Henry, Artist.

I always photograph a cloister in the same format, head-on and confrontational with a pillar in the centre and equal wings of a gallery on each side. I quickly realised that this was not always practical due to a lack of space within a cloister. It is difficult, sometimes impossible, to step back far enough from a pillar and find a point of view that has both sides of the cloister galleries in view.

One of the few exceptions to this is the Romanic cloister at Santo Domingo de Silos in Northern Spain. This was a cloister where it was possible to place the camera far enough back from the pillar to take in most of the cloister.

Santo Domingo de Silos, Spain
Santo Domingo de Silos, Spain

As a rule, however, most cloisters are not so accommodating. The photograph of Santo Domingo de Silos uses an extreme wide angle lens of 47mm (5″x4″) which is equivalent to a 14mm lens in 35mm format photography. The problem with these lenses is they introduce a lot of foreground into the image. The above image has been cropped top and bottom to remove it. Extreme wide angle lenses tend to compress the subject and introduce unnecessary distortions into the image.

For these and other reasons I began to experiment. Instead of using an extreme wide angle lens I started to use a “normal” lens that was closer to how the human eye and brain actually interpret the world. Given that the lens was not wide angle it was now more restricted in the amount of cloister that it could capture in one exposure. So I began to photograph only one gallery of any particular cloister. The important part was to photograph the centre part of the column and as much of the single gallery as could be contained in the viewfinder. This gives one gallery that, when cut down the centre of the pillar, could be copied and mirrored to give a perfect, symmetrical cloister.

Oporto Cathedral, Portugal


Oporto Cathedral, Portugal


“True wisdom is only found far from man, out in the great solitude, and it can be acquired only through suffering. Privations and suffering are the only things that can open a man’s mind to that which is hidden to others”. 

Quote from Inuit shaman Igiugarjuk to the Greenland explorer Rasmussen.