Italian artist Massimo Vitali has been photographing holiday-goers soaking up the sun on beaches all along the Mediterranean for nearly two decades.
Captured from cliff tops or while hanging from scaffolding, his large-scale images are inviting at first, presenting themselves as idyllic, postcard-perfect landscapes. But look closer and the crowds reveal a sort of hedonism, a comment on man’s impact on nature.
Last weekend, two shows of Vitali’s work opened in New York: a selection of photos taken between 2004 to 2011 at the agnès b. Galerie Boutique; and at Bonni Benrubi Gallery, a solo exhibition of new photographs from Spain, Greece, Turkey, and Italy that reveal a shift in his work towards more sparsely populated landscapes—a reminder, perhaps, of nature’s ultimate power over man.
How did you get into shooting landscapes? My beach pictures started as being much more about the people than about the landscape. I was testing my 8×10 camera in 1994, and Berlusconi had just won the elections. I was curious about the Italians who had voted for him, and so while testing the camera, I decided to put my scaffolding in the sea and look back at the people.
What’s your shooting process like? I do a lot of research about my locations before shooting, so once I arrive everything is fairly under control—except the weather, which unfortunately I can’t control! Most of my pictures are taken from a platform raised about 3 meters in the air, though recently I have been using the platform less. I use an 8×10 inch and an 11×14 inch plate camera. I shoot anytime of day—including the night—but I prefer the hours when the sun is high so that shadows are minimal.
What is it about the landscapes that appeal to you? For me, landscape reflects the conflict between man and nature. The past couple years, the landscape has played a much stronger role than it has in the past, reflecting the complex relationship and balance between humans and the natural world.
Do you have a favorite location? It’s hard to say. I love every location but I find that I fall in love with the people and scenarios in each location rather than the setting itself.
Where do you like to holiday? Any beach—I’m not fussy!
What’s inspiring you right now? In the past year or two my production has undergone some drastic changes—distance from the subjects, a much smaller number of people, the greater importance of nature… I am now planning a new change in my way of taking pictures, but you’ll have to wait until next summer to see where my direction will go!
Photos: © Massimo Vitali