Silvia Camporesi: Besides the people who are happy to be photographed, do you ever have any issues regarding privacy or the use of public space? Do you have to request permits when you go to a place and set up your scaffolding?

Massimo Vitali: I could tell you incredible stories of things that happened and never finish talking. As for privacy, fortunately for me the concerns were a lot of smoke and very little fire. I used to pretend not to know about privacy laws. But now that people live to be photographed, I don’t have any problem. Nobody ever argues. A woman once wrote me: “I saw myself in a photo”, I sent her a small image and she was happy.

Use of public space: this is a complicated problem. Also because beaches – it seems incredible – change their management: once they were managed by the Port Authority, then they were under the domain of the State, and today it depends on the distance from the sea. One day in Sicily I wanted to take some photos. I called the Port Authority: “I would like to take pictures in that place with my scaffolding”. They answered me: “No problem: send us the land registry map of the place where you want to go, where you want to set up your stuff, and in 20-25 days we will get back to you”. I told them: “So, how about this, tomorrow I’ll go there and if you catch me you can take me to prison”. Obviously they didn’t come. Also because it’s a pain to arrest a photographer.

Another time, I was in Bari, where I’d always gone without a permit, and it was August 15th – a big holiday. I arrived and set up my scaffolding in the water. After a while the police arrived, but I was in the water. They were on their motorcycles with their big boots, and they were gesturing to me to get my attention. I pretended I didn’t see them, but then they called me and started to arrive: first a Port Authority patrol boat, then the Carabinieri, next a helicopter of the fiscal police. So I said: “Alright, alright, I’m leaving”. The day after I went back to the same place because there was a friend of mine that knew someone at the Port Authority. He put an official looking stamp on a piece of paper that of course nobody ever asked me for.

SC: I’ve noticed that in the most recent photographies, there are fewer people, why?

MV: There are fewer people because I realized: if I increase the complexity, it doesn’t necessarily make it more interesting. 15 people are enough to create a sense of tension, you don’t need to have 2.000. Quite the contrary, photographs with many people have started to bore me.

Silvia Camporesi, "Massimo Vitali" in Doppio sguardo, Contrasto, Roma, pp. 168-169.