With his tripod and a computer set up to his left, Vitali overlooks his scene and waits until the moment is right to shoot. He does not shoot looking through the camera, preferring to keep his eyes on the crowd. While he says he is not looking for any one particular interaction or moment, he knows when the moment is right – he has been known to stay up there for 20 hours at a stretch.
“On beaches, people don’t move so much,” he says. “I need time to think, and they need time to express themselves.”
[…] He prefers to shoot in the middle of the day, when the sun is directly overhead, to avoid any shadowing at all.
“Have you ever seen shadows in Renaissance paintings?” he asks me. “I don’t like shadows. You don’t see dark blue shadows when you go to the beach, but they do come out in the photographs.”
His preoccupation with the Renaissance perspective informs the amount of space occupied by landscape and the number of figures in his pictures. The expansive beaches, with their washed-out tone, look like a stage upon which Vitali’s crowds act out their lives. The multitudes – individuals, couples, groups of friends and families – look like they are lost, like they don’t know what they are doing. While there are pockets of connectedness within the clusters, the groups are disparate. His masses convey a sense of displacement, as if to say, ‘even when we are together, whether on the beach or in the club, our place in the world is uncertain.’
What makes a picture unmistakably Vitaliesque are these micro-moments within the larger story. While another photographer might tell only one story within a picture, Vitali’s photographs contain dozens of scenes. “The picture is something that you have to look at from far away,” he tells me. “That way you see the whole of the picture. Then you can get up close and look at all the details. Details are very important to me.”
Since last summer, Vitali and his team have been working to upload his entire archive – every photograph he has taken in the past 28 years – onto his website. Viewed as a whole, it’s possible to view his oeuvre as a chronicle of how society has evolved since the end of the last century. Part anthropologist, part voyeur, he has captured the many ways in which people have changed – from the rise of the cult of the body, to the boom of the digital age.
“Sometimes I look at the early pictures and I can’t believe it’s us,” he says. “It’s another tribe. You see how the world has changed – everything from the shape of the body, the way people wear their hair, even the colours of the towels and bathing suits. There were no tattoos, no one was on a phone. Everything is so completely different. That is what I am interested in seeing and discovering.”
He says that in all his time taking photographs, he has never had a confrontation or a problem with anyone on the beach.
“Because my pictures are not about spying or about finding out strange things about people. It’s about explaining our daily life. Who wouldn’t want to be in one of my pictures?”