Silvia Camporesi: How did you come up with the idea of portraying crowds, groups of people in action; not only beaches, but also clubs, parks, pools, where the common denominator is the people that stay at the same time in the same place?
Massimo Vitali: Let’s start with the fact that in the last 25 years photographers were all inspired to some extent by the by the Dusseldorf school of photography and that nobody made major changes. Even my photographs, like those of the Dusseldorf school, are based on the discourse of the image-photograph in the history of photography. Additionally, I apply a sociological, anthropological, ethnological interest, introducing more elements and making my works more pleasant. Some even criticize them for being too pleasant. One of the problems with the entrance of Photography into the Contemporary Art world is exactly this: “Those photos are too beautiful”. Let’s start from the beginning of the of the history of photography, coinciding with a tragic moment of art history: photographers felt a debt to painting and believed that they should copy the worst that art expressed at the time. And that, strangely, remains the aesthetic of photography. Even today, when someone looks at a photo and says “what a nice photo”, they refer to this pictorial aesthetic from the mid 800s, to the pictorialism, to the darkest moment for art. Photography shouldn’t be beautiful, if this is beauty.

SC: Especially, beauty shouldn’t be the goal.
MV: […] My photos are a bit too beautiful, because they are beautiful even when I try to make them terrible: I try to undermine the composition, to have fragments of bodies and elements sliced at the borders. Also technically speaking, I have a group of assistants that spend days correcting small details, and if I intervene and say something they disagree with, they blame me.

SC: There is beauty in this chaos of people: there is still a certain aesthetic order. What does the choice of light colors depend upon?
MV: I started to print the beaches lighter because I didn’t like the shadows: with film photography, the shadows are dark and ugly. So I wanted the shadows to be grey and lighter and with the technology of that time – before digital – I had to lighten the entire image during the printing process. The result was that the color became more pastel, but it wasn’t what I was interested in: I just hate shadows and that way of printing was the only way to reduce them.

SC: So, we can deduce that it was necessity that created your style.
MV: Yes, it was necessity that created this style and now, fortunately, many others print very pale photographs, something that is to my advantage. Today there are many beach photographers, but when I started I first researched in the history of photography and there were very few photographers to have taken beach images. As my enemies said to me: “The photos on the beach are made only by scattini!” That was the only time you’d see cameras on the beaches. The beach wasn’t a place to bring a camera, because of the sand and the saltiness.

La Favière, Pink Sails, 2009.

SC: Coming back to the choice of your point of view.
MV: It is first a technical choice, because I use large format cameras where the front part of the lens is a bit inclined and it can focus from very close to the infinite, but only if you are at a certain height. So, I was obliged to go up, in order to have all the landscape in focus, but I also decided to go up because in art history everybody filled the painting with figures. Even before the Renaissance, the paintings were full: there were the ones who commissioned the work, normally on the right, then the knights, saints, Madonnas, kids and angels. Why shouldn’t we take pictures with this same format? In Renaissance theatre, someone even decided which has to be the ideal height for the viewer in the construction of the scene, which was known as the prince’s point of view. All the perspectives in the theatre were calculated at this prince height. Sebastiano Serlio’s drawings codified this rule of the scenic space.

SC: How was the transition to digital?
MV: Digital forces you to do a huge amount of work. When I worked with the enlarger, in a day I could easily print 5-6 photographies. With digital, in printing 5 or 6 photos takes 3 days, because everything is more complicated. You have myriad choices which push you to keep trying and changing, and neither I, nor the printer are enough: you need a colorist, who can adjust the light and colors. I know what I want but he must translate my needs even if I try to do very small modifications. In general, the good thing is that even with a digital camera I take very few photos. If I hadn’t started with analogue, I would probably work like most digital photographers who shoot endlessly. The problem is that you create more work for yourself as you have to spend weeks choosing the photos, whereas when I go back home I only have to choose between 20 shots.

SC: Another curiosity: I noticed that your photos are titled with the place where they were shot and a progressive numeration. This choice gives the idea that your project is a continuum, that you don’t divide the work, as many artists do, in closed series. It’s as if your work has always been…
MV: It is always the same thing. I am an enemy for many photographers who do their “homework”. Homework is embarrassing, limited, a mistake: do first river’s rocks, a week later the clouds, those are examples of homework. But the work is a sing thing and continues.

From the audience – You said that in a session you do 20 shots: in those 20 shots there are always interesting scenes. How do you chose which photograph to publish?
MV: This is another reason that I would like to share each and every image I’ve taken, because I have never shot randomly; I have always taken photos for a reason and I wish people could see my working process, the reason why I took or chose a photo, and understand what is the logic behind it. Sometimes I look at the work I did years ago and I say: “Why did I choose this one? This other one is much better!”. And then there are very bad photos that I edited and today, if someone asks for them, I say: “No, I can’t sell it because it is horrible”.

From a talk with Silvia Camporesi on February 2018 in Forlì.