Every two years in Vicenza, Italy, the World Fair for Church Supplies, Liturgical and Ecclesiastical Art happens across three days. For last year’s fair, photographer Louis De Belle decided to capture the sights and eccentricities of the event for his series Besides Faith. “A few years ago in Rome, I stumbled upon many religious shops (some say they sell the best socks, the ones for bishops) and started researching liturgical goods,” says Louis. “It didn’t take long until I found the World Fair and immediately booked a flight to attend. It’s a huge event with around 13,000 people and a big business too.”
The religious goods industry has an estimated worth of $5.2 billion, so with sales in mind it made photographing the fair easier for Louis. “As it’s a trade fair everyone was eager to be photographed and promote the products, though my focus was slightly shifted towards the uncanny side of the event,” explains Louis. From a table full of Baby Jesus’ to a nun perusing ornate chalices, the religious grandeur and faith attached to some of these objects on their own is completely removed when seen with 20 identical versions.
Keen to capture every aspect of the event, Louis had to adapt to his environment quickly. “The biggest challenge was to shoot fast, I often had to be ready to catch very brief moments, for instance the man drilling the crucifix. Using an external flash helped a lot in that concern.” There’s a mundanity and order to Louis’ series, which contrasts with the bigger reasons people are attending the fair in the first place. “Overall I wanted to see how one’s perception of sacredness might change when looking at religious items displayed – or even just handled – in a different way," says the photographer. "The trade fair’s ‘heterotopic’ ambience was the perfect backdrop for such a visual investigation: no real context and very pristine setups.”