Watchful Waitings

A conversation with photographer Massimo Vitali, known for his large photos of people at the seaside. Photographer of everyday lives, Vitali captures the multiple stories that intertwine among the crowds that animate his images. Within the apparently ordinary scenes lies an analysis of the behavior of contemporary society and its transformations over the years. In this interview, we immerse ourselves in his “thought” images, which do not seek the crucial or perfect moment, but take shape in the time of waiting.

“The collectors create a relationship with the people in the photos, get to know them and maybe even speak to them.”

Marina Silvello: Your photographic technique implies the use of a large analog camera placed at a certain height in relation to the object to be photographed. This height seems to me to characterize your work as a sort of privileged observatory on the crowd. Why did you decide to adopt this point of view?

Massimo Vitali: I have to say that I have basically made myself quite invisible. In more than 25 year of working on the beaches, nobody has ever come to protest. Of course, over these years I have also been able to notice the different attitudes of people in respect to being photographed. At the beginning, people were not afraid, but they were perplexed, then came the privacy phase, and then at a certain point, with the advent of smartphones, privacy was gone within a week.
Even though I place myself in a high position, I don’t feel superior to the people I photograph. I feel involved and participate in the lives I see and shoot.
My relationship with the subjects I photograph is really strong, as is the relationship established between my collectors and their photographs. The collectors create a relationship with the people in the photos, get to know them and maybe even speak to them.
There was one day when, while standing on top of my tripod on the beach, I picked up a small camera and started to take pictures among people. This approach was not well received, people felt uncomfortable. So, it is important to maintain a certain distance to prevent people from feeling too exposed. Moreover, this elevated point of view allows me to include many other elements, besides the people in the scene.

“For many years, I have given up television; maybe I have replaced one kind of images with another kind of images”

M.S.: Over the years, have you noticed significant changes in people’s attitudes and in the dynamics of the crowds you photograph?

M.V.: In 25 years, I saw swimming suits change, the hairstyles, bodies change, tummies. Even towel colors are not what they were 25 years ago. It is amazing how everything is constantly evolving, and in recent years, these changes seem to be even more rapid. This ever-changing dynamic is something that fascinates me and something I always keep in mind whenever I am at the beach. Recently, I have also extended my photography to concerts, trying to understand the differences in people, colors and attitudes. Sometimes, I take the time to look at my earlier photographs to grasp the transformations that have occurred in recent years.

M.S.:There is one element that you carry over from cinema: you hold the camera still and it is the people who move, they are the ones who build the scene. With one difference – compared to cinema – that you are not a director and people are not actors instructed on what to do or not do, where to move or in which position to stand. I imagine this process as a time of watchful waiting…

M.V.: I find it one of the most fun, fascinating and engaging activities one can partake in. For many years, I have given up television; maybe I have replaced one kind of images with another kind of images. This is for me a moment of total relaxation, a form of entertainment. Sometimes I photograph, but even when I stop, I like to keep observing people. My photography is an ode to the details of daily life, a never-ending observation of the ordinary stories of common people that unfold before my eyes. I don’t need any particular follies, normal lives are enough for me.

Marina Silvello, “L’arte di raccontare la vita così com’è”, in Oltre. Conversazioni sul futuro. Invesco Italy’s yearbook, 2024.

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