This particular diptych [Rosignano Diptych, 2004] presents large-scale, hyper-detailed images of a white sandy beach and milky waters filled with ordinary Italians, seemingly unaware of and wholly unengaged with the camera. Looming in the background, omnipresent, is the chemical factory of Solvay, in the small town of Rosignano Solvay, on the Mediterranean coast in Tuscany. The distant smokestacks contrast the natural beach scene, and the hint at the polluted makeup (a mix of limestone and calcium chloride) of the sand and the sea.

In Travelling light: Photography, Travel and Visual Culture, Peter D. Osborne describes the beach as a place on the periphery: “As a site of cultural meanings the holiday beach tends to be associated with the liminal. It stands literally, literally at both the social and geographical edge. It is fluid, part nature and part out, spaced-out, a slip of land where society leaves its slip showing where things split out…” As a separate space, the beach gives individuals the opportunity to relax unencumbered by clothes or quotidian tasks, and as such has long drawn photographers, such as Paul Martin and Weegee, focused on capturing the working classes at leisure.

Two coinciding events in 1994 led Massimo Vitali to begin his series of beach photographs: the theft of all his equipment except for his large-scale, eight-by-ten-inch view camera, and the much debated election of Silvio Berlusconi as Italy’s Prime Minister:

So There I was, with my large camera, a large tripod and an even larger curiosity as to why hoards of people had voted for Berlusconi. The most sensible move seemed to be to place myself right up front of these people, to stare at them in the face, in their most vulnerable, defenseless state. The beach is a common place where the best and worst, the banal and mundane merges. On the beach Italians paradoxically represent innocent bareness, a reconciliation with nature, along with pathetic hedonism.

Vitali’s inquiry into what moves the masses is hinged on their exposure as social selves, being stripped down and removed from their everyday lives.

Vitali describes his process as a waiting game. With an elaborate set-up, including a twenty to thirty-foot.high custom-made platform, and large-format eight-by-ten and eleven-by-fourteen-inch cameras, he waits until he fades into the landscape, and then continues to wait for the perfect moment in which the scene is filled with individual stories and interactions. Indeed the experience of capturing a single moment in time is further emphasized in the format of this diptych, where a subtle shift occurs between the left and the right panel, reflecting the technical impossibility of seamlessly combining two instants. With this large-scale photograph he presents the viewer with an expansive crowded beach scene, inviting them to move within the detailed image, from face to face, story to story, preserving the individual narratives that make up the greater mass.

Matthew Trygve Tung on Massimo Vitali in Peripheral Visions: Italian Photography in Context, 1950s - Present, Charta, Milano, 2012, p. 69.