It is this world of packaged pleasure, that Massimo Vitali documents. His bathers have nothing to do with the idealised water-nymphs of classical mythology and traditional oil-painting or even their made-over modern equivalents, displayed on advertising bill-boards and in the pages of fashion magazines, the air-brushed products of extensive photographic manipulation and studio staging. Vitali captures the stripped and unrefined corpulence of the everyday. His splayed-legged bathers, inelegantly reclining on deck chairs and towels, parade the mass-produced bikinis and swimming trunks of the hyper-market, worn to reveal the puckering pleats of aging flesh, patchy sun-tans and voluminous bellies. In amongst the crowds, semi-naked children play ball in the shallows and fashionable top-less beauties with their well-toned athletic young men, strut their stuff at the water’s edge. The informality of social interaction and apparent lack of self-consciousness of these holiday-makers divests the scene of overt sexual significance and presents a world of semi-naked bodies which is curiously de-eroticised while the distanciated view point and democratising overall vision that Vitali assumes, decathects and banalises the scene, connecting it to the sketchy anonymity of the early images of sea-side tourism.
Unlike the first painters of modern leisure, though, whose painterly mark-making and fluid oil-laden brush strokes strove to capture the immediacy of sensory experience and the consciousness of the passage of time in the traditional medium of oil-paint, Vitali, despite his documentary-like detachment, works in the shadow of the casual informality of snap-shot photography, the purview of every tourist and sightseer. Where the realist fragment, embodied in the peeking head of Manet at the side of the Music in the Tuileries (1862) or the dangling legs of the acrobat at the top of the Masked Ball at the Opera (1873) came to stand for a new mode of figuring the immediacy of visual experience as well as a synechdocic representation of the characters that constituted the modern, Vitali’s cut off figures who enter and exit at front, side and bottom of his images, cannot help but reference the democratising languages of analogue photography, now itself fast becoming an historical medium. For the cut-off connotes the snap shot par excellence. The habitual site for the recording of personal memory and modest incident, the snap-shot, creation of an amateurish hand and invested eye, was the inevitable product of the family holiday whose record it represented.
Vitali revels in the capacity of the photograph to cut and crop a scene with apparent arbitrariness. Not for him the perfected framing and manipulation of the digital image or the carefully posed studio scene. Crucial to his sensibility is the feeling of witness to an actual event that his pictures project. Like the holiday-maker taking snaps or the Impressionist chronicler of modern experience, Vitali makes his presence felt in the margins, revelling in the fragmentary, partial displacements and disfigurements at the edges of picturing.
And yet, the engaged holder of the instamatic, who shoots from close-up and dramatises his own proximity to the scene he records, Vitali remains perched on his platform, separated and aloof from the worlds he pictures. This distance, the long view of verticality allows him to decribe the situation that supports the leisure it allows. The product of commercial culture and industrial legacies, the densely populated pleasure resort, as Vitali pictures it, nestles in the shadow of the structures of modernity, while the expansive ground of the sand or the pale fluidity of the Mediterranean, still like a giant and beneficent pool, provides a unifying chromatic and cultural canvas for the staging of multiple encounters and transient experiences.