Giovanna Calvenzi: The needs of photography are always tied to the society that creates them and to the moment in which they are created. You both became interested, at different times, in a social phenomenon beginning with a sociological, or even anthropological, interest, facing, in any event, the topic with languages that, over the course of your entire careers, are certainly peculiar: Basilico with a reportage style that is not usual for him, and Vitali with a total immersion in the mass of people, almost excluding the setting, which is something not typical for him either. Both your works, at the moment you created them, weren’t really that influential. A historical, I would say genetic, role of photography is to bear witness to moments that in contemporary times become almost like a mirror we might not always want to look at. But later they become a precious testimony. In hindsight, after ten years in Vitali’s  case and thirty in Basilico’s, your work is already becoming a sort of visual archeology on the behaviors of Italians, so it can already be interpreted from a historicising perspective. From this point of view, I believe that the idea today to repropose and unite these two projects is extremely stimulating for two different reasons: because it’s a little piece of our recent history and because in some way it represents an episode that is eccentric with respect to the work you both do today. This is certainly the case with Basilico, who completely stopped photographing people, and it is also true in many ways with Vitali, who pays particular attention to the landscape – inhabited landscape, but landscape all the same.

Massimo Vitali: Discos are the paradise of voyeurism because when you are on high, above the people, you control them, and by controlling you see those who sell the pills, the girl fooling around with someone else’s guy, those going to the rest rooms, when they come out of the rest rooms… that is, you see everything, control everything. Obviously, you wouldn’t even think of photographing the more vulgar things, but when you have more interesting situations, then you shoot. But you can’t control eight hundred people in the shadows. You only find out what you’ve gotten when you have the proofs in hand. In the discos, there is always this struggle between darkness, noise, and light. You try not to get overwhelmed, to stay on top of these components that go against the possibility of exerting control over your photos.


Discos do not derive from dance halls because dance halls have continued with a life of their own. Dance halls went from ballroom dancing to “Saturday night fever”, but always in their own special way. Discos were born to explode your brain and, at least in the early years, drugs went from being a form of protest to complementing the “amusement system”; people work five or six days a week and then on the weekend overdose on music and pills.

Gabriele Basilico: This makes me think of the change in behavior, customs, that took place over the twenty years that separate my photos from yours. For example, in a few of my shots there is still someone jeering a friend…

I’ve never spoken to anyone in discos.

GC: Would you say that over the past ten years the phenomenon as you photographed it has changed?

MV: It’s changed a lot. Now there are those who go because they want to hear a certain DJ. Or there are people who dance event without getting high, while back then it wasn’t even plausible that someone would dance without having taken three pills of ecstasy right before.

AB: […] You both said “You didn’t know what was going on”…

GB: This is one of the ways in which photography seduces. […] You’d like to control everything, but I’ve fooled myself into thinking that I can control everything. The precision I use in constructing the perspective, geometry, my images, for example, is valid up to a certain point, then what happens later can’t be predicted… if this element of the unforeseeable is missing, photography becomes a bland and repetitive experience that leaves you with a feeling of solitude.

GC: Gabriele practices solitude, he awaits solitude, and his photographs search for solitude, Massimo places himself where he is forced to be alone, on high, above everyone.

MV: Just physically. Fortunately my assistant never speaks.

GC: The moment of photographing is a moment of great solitude. You both put yourselves (with dance halls and discos) in a situation that epitomizes crowds, noise, and visual, audio, tactile chaos…

MV: I’ve never spoken to anyone in discos.

From Dance Halls to Discos. A Conversation on a System, with Gabriele Basilico and Massimo Vitali, in the presence of Giovanna Calvenzi and Alberto Bianda, Milan, July 2, 2007 In Disco to disco, Milano, Charta, 2007, pp. 9-16.