Remarking on contemporary leisure culture in America, Jean Baudrillard noted, “Primitives, when in despair, would commit suicide by swimming out to sea until they could swim no longer. The jogger commits suicide by running up and down the beach.” In Massimo Vitali’s bleached out photographs, the beaches of Italian resorts exist as a purgatory of pleasure-less leisure and the brutish self-torture that propels people out of their air-conditioned hotels and into the broiling sun. Vitali hoists the viewer into an elevated beach chair, allowing him or her to observe the daily churning of the ocean, the public displays of partial nudity and the sun-worship from a cool, detached height.

Here, white is obliteration. Consciously blowing out the highlights, Vitali leaves the bright primary and secondary colors intact. The overbearing white calls to mind blindness, an annihilation of the full tonality of color. This is paradoxical as photographers know, white is the simultaneous presence of all the colors in the visible spectrum. The light reflects, bouncing off sand, vast ocean, bodies and sweat. Instead of using light to reveal, he lists it to erase the landscape.

Massimo Vitali strips his swimmers of their surroundings leaving only their shadows inviolate. They pause in this other world, figures divorced from their ground. Edmund Burke argued that in the sublime obscurity can inspire a more engaged, imaginative response than complete clarity. Vitali employs the visual vocabulary of the sublime to isolate the capitalistic trappings of beach leisure. The subjects are anonymous, adorned only by the bright primary colors of their swimming costumes, water wings and sunshades.

Claire C. Carter, Beached.