Rodolfo Felici is a fifth-generation photographer at Fotografia Felici (www.fotografiafelici.com), the family-run photographic studio founded by Giuseppe Felici in Rome in 1863. A trained architect, he has worked as a photographer in the Vatican since 1999, together with his father, Giuseppe, and other members of the family.
Fotografia Felici is one of two studios that shares the privilege of photographing papal events in the Vatican. With a history of more than 150 years, it is one of the oldest remaining studios run by the same family.
Question: Since 1903, the work of Fotografia Felici studio has been almost exclusively within Vatican City. How does it feel to know that you and your family have played a pivotal role in the creation and preservation of photographic records for multiple papal legacies? Do you feel a sense of responsibility to capture the most expressive images when photographing Pope Francis?
Rodolfo Felici: Certainly, and the sense of responsibility is even greater when we are witnessing historical events unique to Christianity such as the canonization of Saint John XIII and John Paul II, or the inaugural Mass of the pontificate of Pope Francis, knowing that the pictures taken will remain as a testimony of that event for future generations. Fortunately, this task does not fall anymore on the shoulders of one single person. Nowadays any event is filmed and broadcasted worldwide, and in an instant hundreds of cameras and smartphones are photographing the Pope.
Our task in the Vatican is to be present during services, and to look for that particular alignment between the eye, heart, and brain (quoting the famous words of a great master of photography) that can narrate through the images the emotions lived in that moment. It is really a magical moment when you obtain a picture that conveys that emotion.
Q: DK’s illustrative compendium Pope Francis: A Photographic Portrait of the People's Pope presents readers with an exceptionally intimate portrait of the Pope and an inside look at papal life through an abundance of images, many of which are attributed to Fotografia Felici. Do you have a favorite image among the ones your family contributed to the book?
RF: The picture of the Pope releasing a dove in the sky over St. Peter’s Square is one of my personal favorites. It is an image that I was lucky enough to shoot at the beginning of his pontificate, and I think it catches well the enthusiasm and joy that Pope Francis communicates. There is a large print of that photo at the entrance of our studio, which welcomes people who come to see us.
Q: How did Fotografia Felici come to the decision to donate the entire proceeds of royalties from Pope Francis: A Photographic Portrait of the People’s Pope to the Office of Papal Charities, an organization entrusted by Pope Francis himself for caring for the poor of the city of Rome?
RF: The privilege to contribute to the message of evangelization of Pope Francis with a book that narrates in pictures the incredible experience of these first two years of his pontificate is already for us the greatest reward. Knowing that the result of our work can help homeless people through the Office of Papal Charities here in Rome only makes greater the already huge reward, and adds meaning to what we love to do.
Q: In your experience, why do you find photography to be such a powerful medium?
RF: I think that photography is one of the greatest inventions of the last few centuries and that the importance of that discovery is still, despite everything, very underrated. Photography allows us direct knowledge of distant events in space or time, and this is a totally new experience in the history of mankind. Being able to go back in history visually has a direct impact on our present choices and in the way we imagine the future. We are among the first people in the world to be able to look directly into the eyes that we had in the early years of our life. We can look into the eyes of our parents, too, and even those of our grandparents.