Nativity Update and New Year News

Dear Friends and Supporters, Fellow Pilgrims All,

Greetings for the Nativity Season, whether you are celebrating this weekend, or in a couple of weeks! I’m thrilled to be able to provide a hefty report on our pre-press progress this past Autumn, and sketch out what the coming weeks look like for the publication of the North American Thebaid book.

My weekly production meetings with St Tikhon’s Monastery Press, publishers of the Thebaid book, have continued throughout the Autumn, and we have made enormous progress perfecting the layout and book design, such that we are very close to ordering our first physical proof of the book. (More on that below!)

The pre-press procedure for us has been analogous to that of a lapidary, woodcarver, or any fine craftsman: we had the basic layout and design in place this time last year, and then began the more detailed work of writing and inserting texts for each monastery, reviewing and refining the image selection and sequencing, and making final decisions on layout parameters such as margins, fonts, and other page styles. Each pass through the book since then has finalized more and more elements, and clarified our fewer and fewer remaining tasks.

Perhaps the most rewarding aspect for me personally has been revisiting the images themselves. The initial photographs which we inserted into the layout last year were, for the most part, “quick edits,” and in no way ready for print. Except for the fourteen or so images included in the 2019 St Tikhon’s Liturgical Calendar, the remainder were only minimally edited, and were intended merely as placeholders for our work on the book design. (Almost all the image galleries posted here on the Thebaid website use versions of these early “quick edits.”)

The process of delving back into these images has been revelatory in many ways. Bringing them up on the computer screen one by one and using the powerful tools in Adobe Lightroom and Photoshop brings back to life my original vision, what I “saw” when originally making the photographs, and it is enormously satisfying to bring out various subtle elements, balance the highlights and shadows, heighten sharpness, color and detail, and generally use these tools to restore the drama, impact and “feeling” the real world scenes originally presented to me, but which were usually hidden in the unedited RAW files captured by my cameras.

For you geeks and photographers out there, this workflow description may sound familiar to you. My practice when doing digital photography since 2008 when I seriously committed to the medium and left film behind, has been to set the camera to save both a RAW file as well as a JPEG. Because of its compression, a JPEG file has only 8-bit depth by which to convey sharpness, detail, color and tonal range from shadows to highlights. The RAW file format saves the maximum amount of image data the camera sensor is capable of rendering. In the camera models I have been using for the Thebaid book, the RAW files provide either 12 or 14 bit depth, gathering from 50% to 75% greater image depth and data than a JPEG file. In a nutshell, this is part of the magic of digital photography, that one can work with those RAW files, and draw out amazing amounts of dynamic range and detail, and then save that in a smaller file for use in publication.

The excitement of seeing these images come alive as I work on these deep edits has been immensely fulfilling, and I can’t wait for you to experience them in the finished book.

What’s Next? — As I hinted above, we are now very close to ordering our first physical proof copy/copies of the book, and have set an internal deadline of January 15 to have all our remaining design, image and text edits completed so we can move forward by that date.

Obviously, this is the major milestone we have been pushing towards, and marks the culmination of the long and detailed process of book design and layout. St Tikhon’s Press and I have literally hundreds if not thousands of hours invested in preparing the Thebaid book, and are excited to be finally reaching the proofing stage. St Tikhon’s Press has been posting their own updates, and we share a growing anticipation as we get ready to go to print that this will be a very special book. Our production call today confirmed all our image edits over the last couple of weeks, and made us realize how close we are to the proofing stage. Watch for more news early in the New Year!

What else?

STILL OPEN FOR PRE-ORDERING: We continue to be deeply thankful for all those who have pre-ordered the Thebaid Book, and are still encouraging pre-orders at the Thebaid Store, as this helps us determine our initial print run, and helps offset the printing costs. 

As I posted this past Summer, all pre-orders made through the Thebaid Store will be signed by me, and will include a matted print, ready for framing, of one of the images from the Thebaid Project, signed on the mat. You can check out the specifications on the Standard Edition (Cloth Bound, Hardcover, with French-fold Dust Jacket) and place your preorders here. (Discounts available for multiple copies.)

An important reminder as we get close to the print deadline, that the Deluxe Limited Edition will only be available by pre-order. This leather-bound version, with ribbon marker, will be signed and numbered, and will be limited in quantity to the number of pre-orders (plus a few extra copies for our Thebaid Team), and will not be available through any retail or online stores. If you’re interested, head over to the Thebaid Store to check out the options, which include substantial discounts for quantity purchases.

SPEAKING ENGAGEMENTS AND BOOK SIGNINGSI am deeply grateful for those who have recently contacted me about scheduling a Thebaid Presentation once the book is finished and in hand. One of the joys of my travels during the project pilgrimage from 2016-2018 was the experience of visiting numerous parishes in between my monastery visits, and giving a digital slide show and talk on Orthodox monasticism in America. I look forward to similar encounters when the book arrives, and my new presentation will of course feature extensive images from my monastery travels. Contact me for details, questions and to schedule.

As always, my heartfelt thanks to all of you, our many supporters and all those who have pre-ordered. It has now been a little over six years since we launched the crowdfunding and travel for this epic photographic pilgrimage to Orthodox monasteries in America, back in September 2016! We are profoundly energized by our progress on the book. Publication draws closer every week, and we are committed to getting it into your hands as quickly as possible. Please pray for us as we finish the Thebaid Book and send the final files to print.

Nativity and Christmas Greetings to you all as we celebrate the Birth in the Flesh of the Son of God and Lord of All, Jesus Christ.


Photo: Cross at St Herman of Alaska Monastery in Platina CA, overlooking the California mountains. © Ralph H. Sidway.

Pre-Press Updates, and Thoughts on Printing

Dear Friends and Supporters, Fellow Pilgrims All!

Before starting my update, as we enter into Great Lent, as is our Orthodox praxis and holy tradition, I ask your forgiveness… God forgives!

Monastery of the Transfiguration, the Sisterhood exchanges forgiveness.
Photo © Ralph H. Sidway

The main thing to ask your forgiveness for is the lack of recent updates. It’s not for lack of news, which is significantly more than the recent steady progress (which we are happy for!) we have been making through Autumn and into the Nativity and holiday season. (But I’ll get to that in a moment.) Rather, it’s been a tumultuous couple of months, from coming down with Covid at the end of the year (only mild-to-moderate symptoms, thankfully), to having to pack and move (a process which is nearing its conclusion).

During this same period, St Tikhon’s Press has been seeding their communications with the publishing world equivalent of “teaser trailers” for The North American Thebaid book. Their brief mentions of the Thebaid book in blog posts and emails underscore their commitment and dedication to making it a significant contribution to the life of Orthodoxy in America.

Much of our recent progress has involved setting the introductory texts for each monastery. It has been a joy to revisit my notes and blog posts from my travels as I prepare these brief descriptions, and I hope and trust my reflections on my pilgrimage will resonate with you and others.

I have also been contacting the monasteries to confirm image usage, an especially important process as a couple of the communities were initially somewhat reserved about their inclusion in the Thebaid book. Though I was given their blessing to photograph, the final decision to publish was withheld, so I am most grateful for the positive reception the images and page mockups we sent these monasteries have been embraced, and permission warmly granted for inclusion in the finished book.

One of the biggest “signs” that we are tracking towards publication is the process of securing revised quotes for the printing. This makes it real, and adds a sense of urgency to all our labors in finalizing the texts and formatting, and working through the remaining pre-press photo edits, not to mention the detailed editing, proofreading, spell-checking, etc., which involves bringing in “fresh eyes” to notice what our core team, in our daily familiarity, may have missed.

Lastly (for today), I want to share with you a brief but marvelous post by Fr Mikel Hill, manager of St Tikhon’s Press, in which he raises and answers the question, “Why Print?” His approach is clearly concentrating on the value of printed books of text, but the principles he puts forth can just as powerfully be applied to photographic books. Consider this passage:

The very inconvenience itself of books leads to the formation of a different relationship than one has with digital forms media, which are “conjured forth, then disappear. We consume them.” Books, by contrast, “are embodied. They live in history. They have their own biographies.” They demand commitment, space, and respect. We approach a book with a certain sense of awe and humility, mindful of the many lives this particular volume, this specific paper and ink, this impression by real type upon this page, has shaped and will continue to shape, long after our death.

This reaffirms what I wrote five and six years ago when first launching this project, that “by committing up-front to the finest book printing, image reproduction, archival materials, and state-of-the-art publishing, pre-press and proofing technologies, we have attained a clear vision of our goal and methods, and have great confidence in our ability to create a worthy volume which we hope will be a lasting gift to Orthodox Christians and the Church for many years to come.”

Fr Mikel goes on to describe the virtues of a printed book, which seem to be uncannily appropriate when applied to a photographic book about Orthodox monasticism in North America:

A permanence transcending generations, a rootedness and immobility, and a refusal to reconfigure are each elements that not only shape the experience of reading a book but shape the reader himself. The medium by which we interact with ideas will influence the formation of the ideas themselves. (Emphasis added.)

Elsewhere I have posted about the devaluation of images in a culture where 1.8 billion images are shared each day via social media. Yet in spite of all these images we remain malnourished for the most part. We are left longing for the Image that might Fill us, Move us, Call to us, Change us, Direct us to the Way. In spite of having posted hundreds of my images here in my galleries, I was and am still convinced of the necessity of presenting fine images — photographs — in print form, and particularly, in a large book format. This appreciation for and dedication to The Photographic Book as providing a “permanence transcending generations,” that “not only shapes the experience” of viewing the images, “but shapes the [viewer] himself” is the underlying philosophy of publishing which imbues and propels our work on The North American Thebaid Book as we prepare it for print.

Fr Mikel Hill closes out his article, “Why Print?” with the following:

It is for these reasons that STM Press is committed to promulgating the value of carefully printed and quality bound texts. We are convinced that our efforts to promote the worth of physical books contains a potential to re-shape and transform the way we think and act, that books are in themselves a spiritual tool for the renewing of our minds in an age that has forgotten how to read...

…and forgotten how to see. Do click over and read the full article.

With my recent move (and covid) behind me, watch for not only more frequent progress updates, but a series of posts looking back at the course of this photographic pilgrimage, which has proven also to be an inner pilgrimage. Unsurprisingly.

Thank you for following along on this journey. A good lent to you all.

Thebaid Store returns online! – Now accepting pre-orders for the Thebaid Photo Book

After a period of technical difficulties following the launch of our new Thebaid Online Store, we are officially back up and running, and accepting pre-orders.

Holy Trinity Monastery, Jordanville NY, one of several prototype cover designs you can view at the Thebaid Store.


This large-format, fine-art “coffee table” book represents the culmination of a unique multi-year project, which has combined crowdfunding, social media, and an unprecedented photographic pilgrimage to over thirty Orthodox monasteries across the American continent, to help raise awareness of and interest in the Orthodox Church and its ancient monastic traditions, and thus contribute to the “churching” of America.

Full specifications are provided for all products. Signed copies are offered, with signed & matted fine art prints. Quantity discounts for signed bundles are also available. At a glance:

  • Quantity discounts available for signed book & print bundles.
  • Additional info and answers to frequently asked questions are provided.

Proceed to the Thebaid Store…


Special Thebaid Presentation at St Symeon Food & Culture Fair, Sat. April 28!


I hope you can join me for the St Symeon Food & Culture Fair for a special day of events, presentations, beautiful chorale music, food, exhibits, church tours, and much more. 

I will be giving an introductory presentation on Orthodox Christian Monasticism throughout the day, featuring photographs from over a dozen monasteries in North America from my book project, The North American Thebaid.

When & Where:

  • Saturday, April 28, 10am – 4pm • Event Page
  • at St Symeon Orthodox Church • Website
  • 3101 Clairmont Ave, Birmingham AL 35205 • Map

Continue reading “Special Thebaid Presentation at St Symeon Food & Culture Fair, Sat. April 28!”

Join us this Wednesday, July 19, at St Athanasius Orthodox Church in Nicholasville KY

Vespers at 6:30pm, followed at 7:15pm by my presentation on Orthodox Monasticism and a slide show of images from the North American Thebaid Project!

Procession at St Athanasius Orthodox Church, Nicholasville KY (Photo:

This coming week kicks off my Summer travels with a highly anticipated (certainly by me!) mid-week presentation at a thriving parish of the OCA Diocese of the South: St Athanasius Orthodox Church in Nicholasville, just a few miles south of Lexington KY.

If you’re curious about Orthodoxy and/or monasticism, I think you’ll find this a rich and informative evening.

I have long wanted to visit this growing Orthodox community, to worship in their new church building (which they moved into in 2014) to be sure, but also to get to better know these dear brothers and sisters just “down the road” from us in Cincinnati. It’s always a joy when Fr Justin and Mat. Tamara and sons stop in to join us for Vespers when passing through the area, and we have known each other now for years.

You can learn more here about the inspiring history of the still young parish of St Athanasius (especially significant for Protestants and Evangelicals wishing to learn more about Orthodoxy). Their journey is unique in some surprising ways, yet will sound very familiar to those of us who have likewise been converted in our hearts by our own encounters with the early Church Fathers.

Check their Directions page and make your plans to join us this coming Wednesday evening!

My sincere thanks to Fr Justin Patterson for his invitation, and to Kathy and Audrey for promotion, logistics and refreshments!

If you’re in the Lexington or Central Kentucky area, we hope to see you! Free and open to the public, refreshments provided, plenty of time for fellowship and Q&A.

  • Wednesday, July 19
  • 6:30pm – Vespers
  • 7:15pm – Presentation on Orthodox Monasticism and the North American Thebaid

St. Athanasius Orthodox Church
100 Lime Lane, Nicholasville, KY 40356


The End of What It Looks Like

Photography, Vision and the Heart

Here is a challenging reflection on photography, by David DuChemin, whose work I have been following for a while now and whom I greatly admire for his emphasis on “vision”, not mere “pictorialism” (if I can coin a word).

“The calling of the photographer is to see the invisible and to show it to the world, and those are the things we see not with our eyes so much as with our heart.”

— David duChemin

His words hit me hard, as I have myself written about striving to “reveal glimpses of the hidden, unseen Monastic Way, through visual means.” It is both paradox (so beloved by Orthodox Christianity) and challenge, one which I do not claim to have risen to, but to which I press onwards, striving to fulfill.

Perhaps someone might ask, “Why?”

Because, as an Orthodox Christian, I believe in “Vision.” We even have a theological word for it: “Theoria.” Even if I do not attain it in either my life or my photography, yet will I press forward, hoping that my efforts may help inspire others to do so.

So, I hope you enjoy this article and David’s challenge to go deeper. He writes of the heart, from the heart, and I have appended a few closing thoughts at bottom on this heart of the matter…

See also my posts:

The End of What It Looks Like

by David duChemin, August 30, 2016:

Cloud Front, © David duChemin

A couple years ago the number being floated around about photographs on the internet was this: 1.8 billion images a day were being shared on social media channels. All of them showing us what every minute corner of the world looks like. It is safe to say that there is little – if anything at all – that remains to be shown. Do a Google search for any conceivable thing, place, or person and there’s a good chance you’ll get more images than you can use. This used to be the job of photographers, particularly the so-called professionals: to illustrate. To show the world what it looked like.

In order to show the world what it looked like the photographer had to use a rather technical means, had to understand the physics, the chemistry, the optics. Owning and using the gear required was not easy. This was the means by which the photographer accomplished his craft and remained relevant. And that, for generations was the task of most photographers – to use complicated gear to show the world what it looked like.

Can you see where this is heading? Something only has value when it’s needed. When it’s scarce. And you can say neither about the use of the camera nor the need for more illustrative images of a world in which 2 billion photographs are shared, not to mention the ones not shared, every day. Before you despair or rush to the ramparts to defend this craft, let me say that I believe more than ever in the value and need for photographs. It just isn’t where it once was, in illustration.

Continue reading “The End of What It Looks Like”