It is at its most intense, that Massimo Vitali likes to capture the image of leisure. The photographer immortalizes the fortunate at their leisure, in those lazy holiday moments on the shores of beaches, ski resorts or nightclubs. Amidst the crowd, he captures the fleeting instances of the ordinary lives of individuals.
We see sun, sea and sky. Wandering along the Italian coasts, Massimo Vitali watches the bathers, those enjoying the water as well as those dozing in the sun. He observes them with the eye of a sociologist, drawn first of all by the curiosity that led him to make a series of snapshots of the beach-goers of his country, the need to understand who they are, what they do. Perched four, even five meters high on a podium, he takes up position, and hidden behind his camera, he bides his time. He follows his phographer’s instinct, and in the quest for the perfect shot he is happy to play the waiting game.
Narratives of the inconsequential
What he’s looking for is “the perfect moment” to click. As individuals go freely about their daily business, he watches their narratives unfold and interweave before crystallising the image. The mundane, the banal becomes, under his gaze, food for his imagination. Although the ensemble is up to chance, at first glance we recognize the artist’s style, the technique he has used in development: a large format, where the intensity of bright light and saturated marine colours interplay with a milky aura reflected from the sea.
But the beaches are not his only playground, nor even Italy. Wherever there are people, Massimo goes. He is as comfortable on fine sandy beaches as he is on fresh powder snow, in a large swimming pool as he is on La Rambla. But wherever he goes, the aesthetics and the device do not differ, and one is always struck by his photographic style, this panoramic vision that conveys a view of the masses, and a hint of the infinite.
Rock beneath the sand
Behind these polished clichés, however, lies a less sunny reality. A closer look reveals Massimo Vitali’s portrait of a society suffering a loss of identity, in pursuit of falsely idyllic, conformist ideals. Through the iconography of holidays, the artist highlights the absurdity of a system where vacation time is no longer synonymous with the respite of taking a break, but in itself requires work. Moments too long anticipated, over too soon, journeys perceived as a remedy for emptiness have become its embodiment. He expresses a notion of commodified leisure whether explicit or tacit. Everywhere lie barriers, limits, lines and queues. The wide angle shot serves to amplify the extent of restrictions.
But we are still far from the accusing eye of Martin Parr. Massimo Vitali does not display the same severity, nor judgment. A viewpoint, at best, that of a spectator, whose primary concern is with relationships and interactions. He does not condemn mass tourism outright, but rather seeks to highlight an individuality that can stand out from it. The subtleties enriching Massimo Vitali’s work are such that under scrutiny our attention is drawn to considering details of each particular person. The density of his work is not measured in terms of numbers, but rather in terms of individual personalities.