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>> Made in Italy
>> At the Seaside: Massimo Vitali
>> Real Romanticism: Alberto Garutti
>> Interview Angelika Stepken

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Arcadia is Somewhere Else
Massimo Vitali’s Observations in the Collective Recreation Park

The work is one of the highlights of the new art installment at the Deutsche Bank headquarters in Milan: Massimo Vitali’s Madima Wave is seen by hundreds of bank staff members every day. The large-scale photographic piece is hanging in the cafeteria. During lunch break, the work offers a view of a world full of sun, sea, and leisure. But the Italian photographer’s panorama views portray anything but a vacation paradise. Achim Drucks introduces the chronicler of the leisure society.

Massimo Vitali, Papeete Prima, 2005,
Courtesy Brancolini Grimaldi/©Massimo Vitali

Massimo Vitali prefers a bird’s eye view. Like a buzzard intently observing a mouse, he waits high above on his self-made platform. He takes his time; ample time. Long before the tourists throng to the beach, he’s already set up his high chair. And when the sun worshippers stretch out on their towels or lounge chairs, they no longer take any notice of the older gentleman behind the large-format camera. Vitali carefully composes his image; then he presses the shutter release.

In cinema, "establishing shots" is the term given to composing views in order to bring the location of action closer to the audience. We’re presented with an overview of a landscape, a street, or a carefully choreographed crowd scene, often from an elevated perspective. Only then does the camera zoom in to where the action is. In contrast with this, Massimo Vitali always remains at a distance – regardless of whether he photographs beaches, dancers in discotheques, ski slopes, or the car city of Wolfsburg. He chooses his location, observes the crowd, and waits. "It’s like a zen exercise. You are there and the things start growing before your eyes." He registers the many small situations, entirely unnoticed. He’s not interested in the dramatic climax of a situation or Cartier-Bresson’s "decisive moment." Instead, it’s the many decisive moments that the artist records in his crisply focused large-format images – an all-over comprised of human states and relationships that Vitali simultaneously regards as a landscape image and a multitude of individual portraits.

Thus, in Rosignano Solvay Beach, August 2, 1998, a young woman holding a camera is instructing her friend how to pose for a photograph, while a young pair strolls by hand in hand; two bored friends munch on their snacks; and a bald muscleman observes his girlfriend, who is sullenly staring into space. People talk, smoke, watch others, or doze in the sun; the sea of the leisurely conquers every last spot on the Adriatic coast: "Dolce far niente" on the jetty – Madima Wave, the C-print in the Deutsche Bank branch in Milan, portrays vacationers who have found a place in the sun on their colorful towels, even on the large rocks tossed into the sea, with the waves foaming all around them.

Massimo Vitali, Madima Wave, 2005,
Deutsche Bank Collection,
Courtesy Brancolini Grimaldi/©Massimo Vitali

The viewer strolls through Vitali’s huge formats, which he often combines into dyptichs and tryptichs, and searches out the people that interest him most. His eye is caught by a particular figure; he follows their gaze, wondering what girl this boy might be thinking about flirting with right now. Anyone can create their own story. In Vitali’s photographic works, the beach is transformed into a stage on which one can study human behavior much more precisely than would ever be possible in real life.

Massimo Vitali, Piombino Jump, 1999,
Courtesy Brancolini Grimaldi/©Massimo Vitali

The photographer, who was born in 1944 in Como, arrived at art relatively late. He first learned his craft at the College of Printing in London and began traveling through Europe in the early sixties as a photojournalist for various magazines and agencies. One of his first jobs was to accompany Jack Kerouac on a promotion tour through Italy. His intimate black and white portraits of the Beat writer are evidence that his eye has always been very exacting. The images were only recently published in book form. In the eighties, Vitali left photography and worked as a cameraman for film and advertising; in 1993 he began experimenting with large-scale photography. His beach series quickly brought about his international breakthrough. Since then, his work has become part of the collections of the Guggenheim Museum in New York and the Centre Pompidou, while his glossy panoramas of mass culture are highly coveted at art fairs.

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