Massimo Vitali studied at London College of Printing and, in the sixties and seventies, at the outset of what is remembered as the season of commitment marked by the images by Brazilian Sebastiao Salgado, he worked as a photo reporter for Italian and foreign magazines including “L’Espresso” and “Tempo Illustrato” traveling all over the world with his camera. Until 1973. These were the years in which, with the birth of Eibl-Eibsfeldt’s “human ethology”, Noam Chomsky’s “transformational grammar” and Alexander Lowen’s studies on body language, the myth of the individual was destroyed and that the masses was confirmed. while at first this ideological crisis appeared to slowly bring documentary photography to sterilization, with the diffusion of its use in artistic circles (above all inside the Conceptual movement), a new attitude began to make way, more unrestricted and free, in relationship to this eclectic instrument.
In this period Vitali moved on to film and advertising, where he worked as he director of photography. His work, as we know and recognize it today, began at the beginning of the nineties in when a series of events pushed him to undertake a search which immediately defined itself as ‘conceptual and anthropologic’ more than ‘aesthetic’, developing in his work a focus that has remained constant. from then on, in fact, the lens on his camera has stopped aiming at extraordinary things, as Dino Messina has observed this vein would have ended with a single image and would have brought him back to photojournalism, but instead he began investigating everyday events and the continuity of many small episodes developed by themes. The era of ‘big stories’ was over, Vitali began to concentrate on ‘little stories’ post-modern works theorized by Jean-François Lyotard.
“Two people kissing, an animated discussion, a group of friends getting together, a family fight”; ‘short stories’, as Vitali defined them revealed by the photographic shot only when they are capable of animating the space around them and break up the monotony. We look at them and yet they do not ‘look back’ at us, they ignore the existence of the observer, subtracting themselves from returning the look. For this reason Vitali’s macroscopic tranches de vie do not imply any type of involvement or any kind of reciprocity between the viewers and the viewed, can be ascribed to the context of absorption which Michael Fried has redefined the principle relationships, between work and the consumer in opposition to the traditional of ‘“theatricalness”. Actually, Vitali often entrusts his work to camera’s clairvoyance, and its intrinsic capacity to product images independently of the photographer’s will: this explains why every time you look at this photographs you can discover something new and different like the deserted view Boulevard du Temple, Paris in 1838 in which Louise Jacques-Mandé Daguerre (the inventor of the daguerreotype) immortalized, without seeing it, the scene of a man that was having his shoes polished.

Vitali’s images, where he combines the detached tone of Walker Evans’ Straight Photography and the suggestiveness of the big screen, distinguish themselves for their frontal view and for the transversal depth of the shot that, like cinematographic film in Jeff Wall’s light box, suggests a possible extension of the visual flow beyond the limits of the photograph’s white border.
In spite of the apparent simplicity of these photographs, which conserve the popular taste of “ready-made” images of the gasoline station and the pool by Edward Ruscha for Vitali the realization of every photograph constitutes a real and proper undertaking, that requires time and constant attention. For this reason he only takes a few shots, maximum ten for each working day: his aspiration, in fact, has always been create “durable works, capable of documenting of who we really are in half a century”. Slowed down and almost suspended, the dimension of time is important even inside the images themselves: in the singular ones, for example, a dominant color tone or a reoccurring geometric motif determine the reading of his work following irregularly sequenced place, while the polyptychs repeat themselves varied by a detail that spatially emphasizes a ‘before’ and ‘after’.
The era of snapshots brought back in fashion Henri Cartier-Bresson’s “l’instant décisif”, Vitali’s work appears to go against the current and paradoxically is closer to Gustave Le Gray’s experiences than those of contemporaries, for example members of the “school of Dusseldorf” which Vitali’s has often been compared to both for the format of the photographs, formulated on the dimensional comparison with the expositive space and the stature of the observers, and for the repetition of some themes. A difficult paragon to make given that Thomas Struth, Thomas Ruff and Andreas Gursky are not, like Vitali, ‘professional photographers’ but artists, that come from a hybrid formation, influenced by Otto Steinert and Gerhard Richter, who at the end of the Eighties chose to use the camera s the most objective means to reproduce and re-elaborate in a more open manner the rigid and repetitive formation they acquired from Bernd & Hilla Becher. Their works are not oversized photographs but real and paper ‘image-pictures’ which, even in the reoccurring frontal shots, confirm their essence as two-dimensional surfaces whose formal relationships are underlined and investigated.

Desdemona Ventroni, "The Photographer’s Finger" in Massimo Vitali Photographer, catalogue of the exhibition “Massimo Vitali” at the Centro per l’arte contemporanea Luigi Pecci - Prato, July 2nd - October 3rd, 2004.