Massimo Vitali: I was a regular at night, a dedicated Jamaican….
Olivier Toscani: And so starting then you began to think of photography in those terms?
MV: Yes, starting then, once I had finished high school – which was when I was 17 years old – I was already in London.
OT: You were a year ahead in school because you were born in January. I’m born in February and I also started school a year early…
MV: Since I was born in January they thought it was better to start a year earlier….and so when I was 17 I had already graduated, albeit with a ridiculous amount of work on my part. Then I took the train to London, back when that was the way to get to London! After three years of college I decided to stay, at that time in London there was the green card…
OT: You knew immediately that you wanted to be a photographer?
MV: Well, yes, I had gone to photography school. I worked, I did some things on my own, but the real problem when you’re working is that you can only do what you are allowed.  Someone tells you, “Do this”, and another newspaper tells you, “Do that”… At that time people understood very little about photography. I had big ideas, but I was never able to get the approval to make them happen.
OT: You worked with newspapers? Which ones?
MV: Yes, I worked for L’Espresso. I worked with Giorgio Pecorini. Reportage.
OT: Why on earth did you want to do reportage and not something more challenging? Reportage is easy. To do a still life on the other hand, you need to know what you’re doing. People who were looking for a shortcut did reportage while serious photographers – like Mulas and the others – they tried to do more difficult photographs.

Ostia, 1997.

MV: I know, it was a mistake.  But when I was nearing 50, I realised I could no longer do reportage. So I thought, “Either I stop taking pictures or I need to make a change”. I tried to understand what I could do… and the timing was unique as in 1994-95 photography was starting to enter into the contemporary art world.
I started taking pictures from a tripod using a large format camera, an 8 x 10 Deardorff.  But it was a disaster… the photos were always out of focus. And so I began to plan and imagine them…
OT: A Deardorff. You know that I had a Gandolfi? It’s made like a Stradivarius, I could lend it to you?
MV: The Gandolfi is magnificent. We used to use them at school. In London all the cameras were Gandolfi.
OT: Today a Gandolfi costs as much as a Ferrari.
MV: I know! And to think how poorly we used to treat them!
OT: Did you know they were made by two lutists from Cremona who went to London to make violins? Then someone asked them, “Can you make a camera?”, and so it started. They’re fantastic, the best 20×25 cameras in the world, the Rolls-Royce of cameras.
MV: Anyhow, that’s how I got the idea to build a sort of tripod which I could climb on top of to take photographs from a raised vantage point, because at least with a 20×25 I was able to put the pictures into focus.
OT: Yes, but it could stand on the sand?
MV: Yes, you could put it on anything, even in the sea. It was made of big pieces of aluminium, very heavy, but it was stable and you could climb on it.
OT: You completely invented your platform…

Ostia, 1997.

MV: I’m on my third version now. It’s given me the ability to see beyond what I would have otherwise been able to with a 20×25.
OT: Like Gulliver!
MV: Exactly, it helped. Obviously we didn’t have drones then… One day I was ready to try the newly built platform and so I set it up on the beach in Marina di Pietrasanta. It was mid August, you can imagine how many people were there… I put it directly in the water. I had decided to take the pictures in black and white, one every 40 minutes from morning to night to have an almost mechanical view of what happened, like a scan. It was a total disaster! The idea of a scan was awful and the black and white was even worse: it was all grey and flat, dirty, so ugly.
OT: In black and white the blue of the sea becomes grey… it’s terrible, truly horrible.
MV: I had a cassette with 2 sheets of color film and I took them too, though I waited a few weeks before developing them. When I saw them I decided to do a test print… it took me a bit to realize what I’d taken, but then I started to think: “It’s not half bad!”, so I started to bring them with me to get some feedback, I showed them to my crazy friends, Mosconi and his crew, and everyone vetoed them – said they were junk.
OT: You should have come to me!
MV: I didn’t give up. I tried printing the photo large, in color. Then I started to go around with my photo rolled up in a tube, I’d arrive at a gallery or a private dealer, I’d unroll the picture and show it. I didn’t plan to sell it, just to show the photo and get some reaction.
OT: Who did you show it to?
MV: So many people. I went to New York, to the Metropolitan and to Hamburg Kennedy.
OT: Always the same photo?
MV: Yes, always the same.
OT: I know that picture by heart – you have to let me publish it!
MV: Then gradually, as more people saw it, I started to show the work. I had a show at the Giudici’s in Chiasso in Switzerland, then I did a show at Guenzani in Milan.
OT: But with just one picture?
MV: No, others too. The summer after I did a whole series of beach photographs.
OT: You’re practically a lifeguard…
MV: My long time assistant, who’s been working with me for 25 years, was the lifeguard at my beach. He was the typical superfluous lifeguard, and he ended up becoming my assistant!

Oliviero Toscani, "In my fifties I understood that I didn’t have to do reportage anymore" in La paura - Lezioni di fotografia, n. 21, Il Corriere della Sera, p. 103 - 104.