Benjamin Barron: How did you first become interested in documenting discos in Italy?
Massimo Vitali: During the first year that I was photographing the beaches, I started photographing discos because I had to find something to do during the winter. It was 1997, and there was a very well-established disco culture. For that job, [my team] used a lot of strobes and that meant that we had to go to the discos in the late afternoon to set up the lights. When the disco opened at around eleven-thirty to midnight, and when people started to come, we would take pictures. We were only able to recover the lights and equipment after everybody left, so we were never home before six in the morning. It was very tough because people were smoking [all night] and so we came back [home] really smelly and filthy. I did it for one year and swore that I would never do it again. I’m now really glad that I did it because I like the pictures. Some of my best pictures are from the discos. I like this idea that there is almost a landscape made of people; there’s very little intrusion from architectural elements, but the shapes of the people are the major element. It was really fun because I had a lot of time to look, follow things, fantasize, and make up my own stories about what was happening and what was not happening, since I would only take five or six shots per night.

BB: Knowing that you were taking such few photographs, how would you decide which moments to capture?
MV: You follow your stories. You look at a group of people that seem prominent and see what they do and then you see other people around – when you have maybe two or three points of interest unfolding at the same time, then that’s a good time to take the picture. But I don’t think there is a decisive moment. Why I take the picture is totally my fantasy. It’s not based on any important or interesting fact. No, it’s just my fantasy, my ideas.

BB: You mentioned that your landscape photographs focus on the relationship between man and nature. What do you think the relationship is between man and the confined dark space of discos?
MV: Well, confined dark spaces make people more important. In dark spaces, you have to follow closely how people look, how people are and how they behave. It’s like the beaches without the nature.

BB: How does your approach differ photographing people in confined and infinite spaces?
MV: There was absolutely no interaction [in the discos]. Nobody really ever asked what we were doing. Even though we had a lot of lights and it was loud when we took a picture, nobody really cared because the music was even louder. It’s also important to remember that at that point, nobody would go to a disco and take pictures. There were just no cameras around. Why bother to take a camera when you could lose it, break it, or have it stolen? Similarly, nobody would take a camera on the beach. Now, everybody has a phone and a camera. Now, the moment people understand that you’re taking a picture, they all want to be in the picture because they know that if they’re in the picture, then they’re a part of history, and if they’re not in the picture, then they’re not. Right now, the belief seems to be that it’s always better to be in the picture.

BB: How did this affect the meaning of the photographs, for you? What happened when people recognized what you were doing?
MV: I was too obvious for people to be worried. I used very large cameras that were not too common, so when I was taking pictures up in my scaffolding in a disco, and there was a huge band and lots of lights, nobody asked me questions. If I was down with people taking pictures with a small camera, they would start asking questions like, “Why are you taking pictures? What are you doing?” Because they could confront me. If I was on top of the ladder and far away, nobody really cared. I was more like a machine. I was not part of their world.

BB: What was your first experience going to a disco, beyond the series?
MV: I don’t even remember it. Yes, of course, I went to discos in the 1960s because I was in London. Sometimes I liked it and other times I did not – it wasn’t something that I would die for. I would rather go to a bar than to a disco. In the 1960s in London, there were lots of places where they had live music rather than disco.

Benjamin Barron, “Massimo Vitali” in ALL-IN, Issue 04, pp. 13-25.