The beach raises some fundamental social questions: contemporary ways of being together (without necessarily interacting with others), the exercise of the freedom of bodies and the relationship between nature and culture.


The beach is no longer the territory of emptiness that Alain Corbin spoke of, but conversely the metaphor of a fullness (social fullness, full of little nothings if you will, but the continuous expression of a form of social density). In the representations of the beach as a territory of emptiness, what dominated the scene was the monotony of the horizon.
In the seaside, according to Vitali, the issue of monotony and boredom that may result from it disappears: the photographer looks towards the land, towards the profuse multiplicity of social horizons.


The dominant impression is […] that there is a temporary collection of similar individuals, who all remain the depositaries of a singular trajectory. Everyone continues to manage his own microscopic affairs, without giving the appearance of a powerful and integrative collective order.

Sophie Biass-Fabiani: In the comments you have been able to make about your work, you say that sometimes you are on the verge of voyeurism and that at the same time you seek a certain objectivity. But when we discuss with you, you are often quite critical of the habit people have to go to the beach.

Massimo Vitali: I am critical when I am not on my seven meter high scaffolding. When I am among people, this changes […] Voyeurism is normal, when we manage to see people’s lives, we can’t stop thinking, trying to understand what they’re doing and what they’re thinking. Indeed, what I’d like to do is to follow each of those people on the beach back to their homes, ask them questions, look in the fridge to see what they eat, see what they read, what kind of house they have, what kind of car, what they tell their children. Since I can’t do that –maybe one day I could, but I haven’t managed to do it yet– I imagine what they’re saying, thinking, what they have left at home, whether the woman who is with them is their wife or not, I think of little stories.

People who look at my pictures should follow a path. And everything I do from a technical point of view is aimed at giving the viewer possibility to follow a narrative. Nothing has already been established, everyone can follow his own path, either good or bad, be interested in certain small details, a color, a facial expression, a small tear that has yet to fall […] There’s nothing spectacular, it’s an absolutely normal beach where nothing happens, although looking closely there’s always something happening. It’s always interesting. I had some friends who got on the stand and watched through the lens. In the camera, the image appears upside down, and after this little visual shock, they stayed maybe fifteen to twenty minutes watching and said: “But it’s better than television!” Of course, that’s life, and life is always better than television!

S. B.F.: Concerning a more sociological perspective, what strikes me is your description of the crowd as a juxtaposition of individualities. Perhaps this is what gives your pictures a deeply vivid and human dimension?

M. V.: Normally, I arrive on the beach early in the morning and there’s hardly anyone there. I look at the occupation of space a bit like in the American West, when people arrived with wagons and arranged some stuff to stake their territory. It’s interesting to see what people bring with them to the beach, how they occupy the space, the evolution of colors with fashion. Every year particular trends impose certain colors, certain types of clothes, sunglasses, plastic gadgets, children’s toys, for example, vinyl inflatable crocodiles, ten years ago there were none, but today vinyl crocodiles are very important, and everyone builds a small, well-defined space.

You can’t do whatever you want, if someone arrives a little late trying to occupy the space first there are some looks, then words are exchanged, it’s something very evident. You feel that there’s an occupation and a division of space. It’s very human and animal at the same time, it’s man in nature, animal in nature. This is one of the reasons why beaches particularly interest me. Children always make castles with walls, nothing but that, I could do something else, but children, and fathers for their children, build castles with walls. This means that space is something tangible that should be occupied, that one must defend until death. There are a lot of little things like that, some small signs on the beaches.

S. B.F.: What is the relationship between the crowd and the individual?

M. V.: The other reason why I prefer beaches to other places of sociability, is that we very clearly see the individuality in the crowd. If you go to a concert or a soccer game, there are a lot of things that inhibit people, and the crowd becomes mass, individuals get lost in the mass. It’s less interesting. On the beaches, there are a lot of people but not a mass, there are well-defined and sometimes antagonistic personalities.

Sophie Biass-Fabiani & Massimo Vitali in Les plages du Var, Hotel des Arts - Centre méditerranéen d'art Conseil général du Var, May 1, 2000.