That book is enormous!” cried my wife upon spotting Entering a New World, the new monograph by Italian photographer Massimo Vitali. Her reaction is a good summary review. Every aspect of the book is gargantuan. It’s more than 14 inches across, 11 inches tall, weighs 6.4 pounds, and covers ten years of shooting. For most of his career, Vitali has used large-format cameras to absorb acres of subject matter all at once, every corner reproduced in exquisite detail. There are no half measures here. Instead, we are presented with a full-corpus embrace of the world.

At a general level, Vitali’s photos are cultural documents, depicting the raw dynamics of human behavior in the context of the natural world. But his methodology creates such an intricate level of detail that it surpasses simple description. They might be considered information motherlodes, ready to be picked apart in any number of ways. There’s a ‘Where’s Waldo’ dimension as the viewer sifts through small artifacts and signs, looking not for Waldo, but just immersing in the scene, taking it in.

Pictures of crowds have taken on a new, nostalgic cast within the context of coronavirus. Although they aren’t long in the past, and the book is recently printed, the photos seem to represent a distant historical era. Each one is a lesson in non-social distancing. Was it really just a few months ago that such crowds were normal? Unwittingly, Vitali’s pictures have become imbued with a wistful charm, like an old family album. A reminder that one never knows how future events might twist the present record.

Entering a New World is merely the latest in a set of three (so far) such Steidl books. The
first two were released around 2011. Collectively they’re intended as an ongoing Vitali retrospective. Assuming that Vitali stays productive, we should anticipate more in the future. Of course, if he’s as energetic as his work, one or two or five more books would not come as a surprise.

“Entering a New World: Reviewed by Blake Andrews”, in Photo-eye, June 1, 2020.