The visual economy of the very first plate draws attention to a striking natural rock formation in Sicily overlooking the sea (it is known as Mount Fuji), and synthetically announces Vitali’s thematic and formal concerns. Thematically, the dramatic rock formation and spectacular seaside setting is the self-conscious object of attention not only of the photographer himself (he and his apparatus were perched, it seems, high on the rocky outcrop). It is also a primary interest of the human beings down below: from our height, we can see at least three groups of people in the act of photographing themselves at the site. Standing in silhouette against the flank of Mount Fuji (at right) or against the sea (at left). Indeed, people have settled in this special place to enjoy the sun and scenery in one another’s company (even though we can imagine the rocks might be uncomfortable, and even though many of the people in the scene might be strangers to each other) or pass by it and take it in for the same reason (a pleasure-craft can be seen sailing by at the top right).

Formally, the meticulous if ambiguous composition – the bright glare of sunlight flattens the bleached-white rock outcrop into what could be a flat, triangular spit of beach – positions us above and outside the scene; we cannot quite tell how our ground at our standpoint physically attaches to the topography of the scene below. The image invites us, then to inspect its geometries and aspects from different points of view, especially because we can imagine what the people in the scene must be seeing from their points of view when they photograph it. Without fully revealing where we stand. Related photographs in this group enact the kind of movements (whether real relocations of the photographer’s actual standpoint or imagistic reorganisations of the focus, visual angle, depth of field, and cropping of the photographs) that will be found throughout all the plates in the book. In no. 3846, for example, we “step back” to attain an even “higher” vantage, and look down from a slightly different angle; at the same time, we can see far more of the sea and the beach where “Mount Fuji” is located. In plate 9 (no. 3841), we seem to see the same scene from a vantage point about as third as close to the people (at least in part), and therefore that we must be seeing the scene at a different time – perhaps even on a different day.

Whitney Davis "Massimo Vitali's Mammals" in Natural Habitats, Göttingen, Steidl, 2010, pp. 133.