Rodrigo Orrantia: Massimo, looking back over your different series, from the recent Lampedusa to your first images of swimming pools and discos, have you found a connection, an underlying interest behind your work?

Massimo Vitali: At the beginning, I was trying different subjects, I was going from beaches to discos to pools, but then at the end I just thought that I would stick to the beaches. In the last 20 years, I’ve made some dramatic changes in the way I see them and also to the approach that I have when photographing whatever happens to be there. I’ve done pools and discos and the public spaces – ski resorts for exemple – but my main work has been beaches and the way they have evolved. The other interesting connection is how my way of photographing them has changed with time.

Rodrigo Orrantia: From early on, your images were very thoughtfully composed. You clearly took your time to set the camera and get the best vantage point. I can’t help but think about the Italian cinema of the time, the influence of 60s Antonioni, shooting Italian life out and about, turning the whole of Italy into one big cinema set. Was Italian cinema an influence for you when shooting this early work?

Massimo Vitali: Yes, the new wave. I didn’t want to do the gas station in the desert. That was very boring. I did work in the movies at some time. It was a bit influence but I don’t think I even noticed it at the beginning. Maybe later I thought about the cinema and Italy, and it took me back to the beach. By then [start of the 90s] I would go and spend the whole summer at the beach. In 1995, I spent the whole summer taking pictures of beaches.
It’s like when you study butterflies. If you see a butterfly and you pin it down and you put in on a velvet cloth, then it’s much easier to study – the animal, the colors and so on. So the beach, form me, was the place where I saw people like butterflies. They were very open to being studied, [which was] easy for me because people at beaches don’t move too much. If you’ve got too many people moving, it gets really complicated, especially if you use a slow process like shooting with a large format camera. You have to take your time, and the beach is a perfect place for this.
The tension is when people get there and then they look at each other, they interact with each other, they share the space. I’m after this sort of tension given by our way of living and occupying the space.

Rodrigo Orrantia: Bu then there was a definite interest in nature and more remote locations, away from the urban beaches and open spaces in cities.

Massimo Vitali: Indeed. For the last number of years, the natural part became somehow a more important part of my work. And it was not just nature; perhaps it was more what people were doing to nature [and] how nature was reacting to this occupation by the people. One question that became evident to me was [whether] nature was really strong enough to fight back against what mankind is trying to do to it.
Eventually, the focus on people became less important and this fight between human beings and nature became prevalent. By the end of the 90s, I started to think about exceptional natural places or exceptional non-natural places. There was a bit of conflict.

Rodrigo Orrantia: What’s next in your work? It seems tat after 20 years of photographing beaches, you still have keen interest in going back and creating new work.

Massimo Vitali: After this picture of Lampedusa, I started thinkings about doing something more specific about migrants arriving on the beach. So I’m now working on a project to do with beaches as spaces of departure and arrival. The title at the moment is Visible-Invisible.
Obviously it will be something totally different from the pictures we have already seen to do with this topic. It will be different to a photojournalistic take. It will be very different; I’m working on some ideas.
I’m now trying to work on what is behind photography, not what is on the surface of the image. The idea is to get people to realize this grave situation and get them to help these other people. It’s another step, a different step in the world of communication. It’s no longer about a beautiful picture, or even a strong picture. I want to say I’ve done something – something completely different – something the transcends.

Interview by Rodrigo Orrantia in Under the Influence, Issue 15, Spring/Summer 2015, pp. 248-261.