As I paged through the photographs in Massimo Vitali’s Entering a New World, 2009-2018, impressions came to me that broadened out into an observation that seemed to me to re-enforce the irony of the title. The world I entered into was of humanity gathering itself together into crowds of almost naked people in settings of rocks and of sea, there where they were meant to be enjoying themselves, but where they now inhabited a world that was new because they had left behind a past world no longer habitable to them, that of cement apartment blocks, a power station, a blank-looking fortress, even a few parked cars, all seen in the distance. The irony was that the newly inhabited world was, itself, uninhabitable.

But this is an observation, and as such I thought that it perhaps took away from the photographs something more that gave them their power, that made any observation seem to lack consideration. I did study the photographs carefully, and as I did I fixed on details that I thought shifted my overall impression, details that I was sure Massimo Vitali had himself meant the viewer’s attention to fix on with wonder at their appearing.

I shall try to describe these details.

In a photograph, indicated by an almost illegible page number as if to free the work from any outside constraint, even to there not being any text to the book, I noted, far out beyond a scene of people in or sitting along the edge of a long, narrow pool, a tiny figure alone in a kayak, headed out to sea. This is on page 115. I needn’t make any comment on it.

And, on page 27, I focused on two jutting legs of someone who appeared to have fallen from the sky into the sea.

On page 103 there is a view unlike the predominant views of bathers: in the foreground is a low stone wall, some people sitting on the wall, and beyond the wall is a field littered with strewn clothes among plastic pup tents, and beyond this field what appears to be a storage container identified with a red cross, and then a long, red cargo container, and beyond this two wooden huts painted green, and extending beyond these a vast, bare, open field with a few leafless trees to the horizon, and a very pale sky above. In almost all the other views, my eye kept readjusting to go further and further back, as if to a view beyond the view. But in this photograph, my eye returned to the foreground to study a large block of stone, once cut into a cube, its corners knocked off, and it came to me that the wall in the immediate foreground, on which people were sitting, was made of boulders that must at one time have been mined; and then, in the background, to the side of one of the green huts, I saw a circle of stones that, too, must have been mined, and this circle of stones became to me the visual context of the whole view, that of ancient ruins.

In literary terms, these details might be considered “signifiers,” that is they cause a shift in meaning to something suggested. I saw Massimo Vitali’s photographs as narratives in which the details did shift the narrative, as the detail of the woman in a black dress standing hip deep in a stream where everyone else is in scant bathing costumes, on page 165.

David Plante, The Photographs of Massimo Vitali, Specially Written Contribution, February 11, 2020.