The inauguration of the photographic exhibition “Changes” took place on 7 May in Saint Peter’s Square. The exhibit is curated by Lia and Marianna Beltrami together with the Dicastery for Communication, the Dicastery for Promoting Integral Human Development and the Laudato Si’ Center for Higher Education. 

The exhibit features 24 photograms by artists from peripheries around the world – Bangladesh, Ethiopia, Amazonia, Florida, Greece, Italy, Iceland, Australia, Turkey – paired together with verses from St. Francis’ Canticle of the Creatures. The intense colors of the works highlight the beauty of the planet but also, in an almost paradoxical way, its wounds as well caused by destructive and frenetic human processes. 

The initiative came in response to Pope Francis’s call in his Apostolic Exhortation Laudate Deum when he warns of the looming dangers of climate change, soon to be irreversible: “We will feel its effects in the areas of healthcare, sources of employment, access to resources, housing, forced migrations…”

The “Changes” exhibit also had displays during the Synod from 2-27 October 2023 with a selection of 15 stills shown in the Vatican Press Room, then at COP28 in Dubai from 30 November to 13 December 2023. The exhibit is part of the project “Emotions to Generate Change.”

Art generates change

In an inteview with Vatican News, curator Lia Beltrami of Italy said the exhibit reflects a journey now in its third phase that aims “to place art at the service of the change Pope Francis has always called for, whether in his Encyclical Laudato si’, in Fratelli tutti, or in Laudate Deum. This idea of change has been interpreted by photographers who come from around the world, some who have had to escape hardship.” The artists include Neşe Arı, Raffaele Merler, Giampaolo Calzà, Franco Giovanazzi, Vassilis Ikoutas, Asaf Ud Daula, Sebastiano Rossitto, Ferran Paredes Rubio, and Francesca Larrain.

“In the first exhibit we interpreted the words of Pope Francis in Laudato si’, the second one featured the cry of women, which is part of Fratelli Tutti. And in this third and latest one, we focus on the theme of climate change and its bearing on individuals and society,” Beltrami says. The words of St. Francis accompany the photographs. The media utilized are also important. They are made from wood salvaged following a major storm that hit the Autonomous Province of Trent in Italy that otherwise would have been thrown away and instead was used to create the photo panels.”

A photograph from the “Changes” exhibit

Photos that speak

When asked if it is true that all art in general can be shaped, but photography always captures the truth, writer-director Lia Beltrami replies that “it tells the truth and it speaks. The eyes of the people depicted tell stories, and we always try to make sure that in every shot there the path of a journey is seen, one of social change. There is a change in the photographer, one in the person or situation represented by the photograph, like, for example, the photo of the indigenous woman in the Amazon, or the nuns in Borneo. We made sure that with each one there is a story of change. So it is not just about photography, but photography and social change,” Lia Beltrami concludes.

Protagonists of change

The prefect of the Dicastery for Communication, Paolo Ruffini, in inaugurating the exhibit, highlighted the importance of this initiative “because it combines words with images and in this way seeks to move people’s hearts to a greater awareness of how the care of our common home, which is the earth, regards our personal lives and in some way also our relationships. It’s an awareness,” he explains, “that triggers a conversion that must come about within us. Usually, we tend to see bad things as happening outside of us, and we stand on the side as spectators. These pictures move us to become protagonists of change. That’s why we care so much about this project.” 

Images and words in these photos inpsire and amaze. “As Pope Francis says,” Paolo Ruffini observes, “the sense of amazement is something that unfortunately we have lost in our times, we have lost the ability to be awed by things and to observe them, making us in some way really be challenged by them. We behave as if we have already seen everything and in reality then, we end up seeing nothing. Recovering the ability to be amazed means seeing and also being seen by others. This is the beginning of an ecological conversion.”