I spent a day at the river working with Massimo. He was working and I was testing some cameras on my own. I was shooting freehand as I don’t like bringing a tripod when I am without my large format camera, while Massimo had his tripod, Alpa camera and all the rest of his equipment. He is the anti-reporter in terms of his technical equipment. Almost all photographers make their subjects move while they stay still. Massimo walks around for a while, trying to understand where to position his camera, where to place the tripod, where to get the best angle, and then he waits. It must be an old habit learned from many years spent with the 20×25 camera, where the use and the realization of the image is completely different compared to a normal hand-held camera: you don’t have to understand where to put your subject, but where to put the camera. A little revolution.

Then, there is the light. We don’t talk much about his light. Massimo is known for his subtle but apparent overexposure, for the absence of shadows. But the Disco series tells us more. A lot of flashes, I imagine, as if trying to create the noon light in the middle of the night, to bring the sun into a disco as if it was a huge balloon and put it there, and then again, to wait. I can’t begin to imagine how he was able to arrange the focus in total darkness. Exactly the opposite and so, the perfect truth, as opposed to the staging of the flash by so many reportage photographers, who seem to use the flash to render a scene that is not so dramatic (in their humble opinion), even more dramatic but artificially so, and hey, why not shoot in black and white with heavier and dramatic blacks or, even worse, make it “theatrical” and show off with the “theatre of life” or some other bullshit. This kind of manipulation of reportage images always makes me think about the aridity of the people who use them. As if they had an emotional limit that they’re unable to reach without veering, dramatizing, pleasing, thinking that everyone thinks and sees as they do.

None of this; rather the complete opposite in Massimo Vitali’s work. Colors, lots of light. The truth of the colors and the full light versus the lie of the artificial black and white. Not Massimo, the light of day. Let’s see everything. Do not dramatize anything, but instead put yourself in front of a scene in the flattest way, frontal and so, without wanting it, as violent as possible.

To watch him work from a distance, but also closer up, he has both the steadiness of a rock and the impatience of a boy who wants to go back home but instead remains because, just maybe, a photograph will arrive. I observed how he shot. I was watching the scene that he was photographing and I thought “that guy over there, I’ll go take his portrait”. But then I realized it was useless, because that guy, together with another sixty guys, were already in Massimo’s picture. Then I heard the shot going and the shutter working. It happened exactly at the moment when something happened in the scene; a dive, the gesture of a mother to her son; a guy jumping from one rock to another suspended above the river, or two twins unsure whether to jump or not.

He shot with the head of a war reporter, when they shot 36 pictures per roll, and the technical fixity of a speed camera, shooting any time something exceeded the speed limit. And he shot and he shot. He shot every gesture and every face. Shooting so much that Giovanni, his first assistant, swears every time they check the work because he would like to have fewer pictures to choose from. And here, there is Massimo’s second great talent, shared by all of the greats. The ability to choose the right people to surround himself with before taking a picture, when he’s taking a picture, and after he’s taken a picture.

The people who make up his studio each have a unique talent that he doesn’t have, or if he does, he doesn’t want to cultivate or show it. His entire team demonstrates a gravity and professionalism while working, while also having the presence of mind to realize they are not brain surgeons. Fortunately for Massimo and for them, this is the only quality which they share, because they are very different from one another, but also absolutely complementary. We say “the better you are, the humbler you are,” and they are so humble they scare me.

When you become friends with an artist who is so good, you always think you can learn something from a technical point of view. Nothing. Nothing to do.
The only thing I have come to understand is that in order to take my own pictures I must stay very far away from him. So that I can forget the simplicity with which he takes his pictures, hoping only that I can make a path like his, removing anything that is superfluous, while still succeeding in including everything.

Valerio Spada, 29 agosto 2017.