Joerg Colberg: Unlike most other art forms photography always is thought of as being very documentary, because, after all, “all” the photographer does is to press the shutter button (so s/he “just” operates a machine). With this kind of thinking it becomes a bit complicated, though, to reconcile the “art” aspect with the “documentary” or “social commentary” aspect, especially since art is often thought of as something that does not truthfully describe our reality. What is your take on this?

Massimo Vitali: Exactly, the photographer only operates a machine. I totally agree. But, the kind of machine, the location of the machine, what is happening in front of the machine, that is the creative/artistic process. You have to choose the camera that has to be suitable for the job, in the same way that a painter has to choose oil, or chalk or acrylic to create his scene. A photographer’s camera is his palette. Contemporary photography has shifted and destructured the moment of creativity. The artistic/creative/conceptual moment occurs before the photo is taken.

JC: In a sense, your photography is much closer to classical painting than to other forms of photography, given the vast scopes of what you show. Is that something that has played a part in the way you take these images?

MV: You are perfectly right. When you look at a classical painting, you see that the canvas is filled with various levels from ordinary people and soldiers to kings, angels and then, finally, God, with a few little pieces of landscape here and there. My idea, having grown up with this imprint, was to develop photos with very little empty spaces.

Joerg Colberg, In Conversation with Massimo Vitali in Conscientious Extended, March 23, 2010.