A monk on the island of Dek on Lake Tana (Ethiopia) shows off an ancient illuminated manuscript. Dek is the largest island on the lake and home to four monasteries, of which Narga Selassie is the most visited for its striking construction, murals and books.
Ethiopia – Photo Tip

How to photograph history

Photo by Aldo Pavan

Ethiopia – Photo Tip How to photograph history

I went to Ethiopia to photograph the amazing history of religious culture in Africa: ancient manuscripts.

Aldo Pavan
Aldo Pavan Travel Photographer

Apart from being a living culture, some of the religious relics used in Ethiopia today are almost as ancient as the religion itself. The remote churches and monasteries of Lake Tana, for example, hold precious, colorful books and murals that tell stories of Jesus and the saints and even of monsters converting to Christianity after repenting their terrible deeds.

This remote region in Ethiopia is not yet overrun by coach parties so the monks who keep these treasures alive are happy and proud to open the sacred books to the few visitors. Photographing the icons of this ancient Christianity soon has you lost in the past.

I wanted to photograph the book in such a way that you could almost smell how old it was. I moved in as close as I could, using a wide-angle lens, showing the structure of the paper and how fragile it really is.

Mind you, unlike the medieval manuscripts of Europe that are locked away in museums under dim lighting and high security, these books are used every day. That is why I thought it essential to include the monk, the literal keeper of the faith, in the photo as well.

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A mural in a monastery on Lake Tana showing the beheading of John the Baptist on the orders of Salome (right), a story from the Christian New Testament. Much of Ethiopia’s early ecclesiastical art and literature was destroyed in the 16th century as Islam made inroads into the country but the remote churches of Lake Tana were the perfect spot to preserve many artistic treasures. Photo by Aldo Pavan

Aldo Pavan

Aldo Pavan

Fuji FinePixS2Pro

Aperture
ƒ/3.5
Exposure
1/8
ISO
400
Focal
24 mm

A mural in a monastery on Lake Tana showing the beheading of John the Baptist on the orders of Salome (right), a story from the Christian New Testament. Much of Ethiopia’s early ecclesiastical art and literature was destroyed in the 16th century as Islam made inroads into the country but the remote churches of Lake Tana were the perfect spot to preserve many artistic treasures.

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