Photography and the archive according to Massimo V...

Photography and the archive according to Massimo Vitali

This summer marks thirty years since his first photographed beach. He is completing the digitization of his archive, which is now visited by schools and academies. A new book is about to be released: Massimo Vitali takes stock of his poetics, the transition from analog to digital and the role of archives.

Massimo Vitali, “Marina di Pietrasanta”, 1994, fotografia analogica, courtesy dell’artista

Simone Azzoni: How did you experience the transition from analog to digital?
Massimo Vitali: The transition to digital, although not entirely painless, has removed so many problems. Those who think film is fantastic have no idea what it was like before. I can understand that it’s romantic, that it’s nicer, that photography was born that way, but it wasted time and mistakes were made. It was all very difficult, even with photographic paper: even today I must make reprints because the photographic paper doesn’t read the image. I’m happy to have spent much of my life working in analog, as a starting point, but I’m also glad that analog is now a thing from the past and today we do digital. Digital is not simple, but mistakes in digital can be recovered, in film no.

Massimo Vitali, “Viareggio Airshow”, 1995, fotografia analogica, courtesy dell’artista

The digitization of your archive is a way to show the process, the undeveloped shots, a journey and a memory. What about the traditional archive, where the material has its role, where the hands touching the photos have their own communication, their own knowledge?
My idea is to put online all the shots I’ve taken in the last thirty years. On August 15 2024 will be the thirtieth anniversary of the first beach photo taken in Marina di Pietrasanta. Just as we have boxes with negatives, the proofs, we will also have a digital part that can be consulted. In fact, my idea – I always go a bit against the grain – is to have online all the shots taken, including the wrong ones, the ugly ones, because sometimes terrible photos are taken, photos that have light leaks or were poorly developed. My idea is to digitize everything that has happened in these years of work. In thirty years, I’ve taken almost five thousand photos, but it’s not like that for everyone: I work in large, expensive formats and at the end of a work session, I’ve taken about twenty shots.

How do you keep an archive alive and dynamic?
My photos are mainly about our society, they are not beautiful photos or have geographical interests, but they are about our life and our society. There is a basic socio-anthropological interest in the photos, and I think these young people who came to do the first reinterpretations of my work understood that. Until a few months ago, I had forgotten at least 70% of my photos: you take them, then choose them, then they get printed, sold, reprinted: there’s a process and you tend to forget everything. So, an archive also serves not to forget, because a forgotten photo can be seen again from another perspective.

Massimo Vitali, “SDT Island 3”, 2009, fotografia analogica, courtesy dell’artista

In the transition to print, there is a theme that intrigues me: getting close to capture the details and then moving away to see the whole, or the connection between one story and another. Does the fixed nature of the page undermine these stories?
Absolutely, but in fact, I have never been a big fan of books. I have made books, I have put almost all my production in books, but I am aware that my work is to make large photos, from which the viewer can exit, see the details. In the last book (Distant Close-Ups, published by Steidl), which has not yet been released, there are double pages with super close-ups; a part where you can see all the photos from the last four years and the last ones with the details of the previous ones. It’s a suggestion for internal movement in the book. But anyway, a book is a book. Like postcards compared to Cartier-Bresson’s photographs.

Massimo Vitali, “Praia da Torre Fortress Europe”, 2016, fotografia digitale, courtesy dell’artista

The title, which will not be translated into Italian, could be “Primi piani lontani”?
Yes, it’s an oxymoron that captures my photographic style: detached and objective, but at the same time builds an intimate relationship with the subjects of the photographs.

You curate a blog on your website. Is it possible to combine communication that has this channel with a gallery system that has very different rules? Is it a way to expand the audience and create more layers among the users of your work?
When someone asks me something, I can always say: «Go to the blog, it’s written there». The blog is not a trendy tool, people don’t read it, people want to receive in their inbox everything they think you should tell them. The blog is an outdated tool, an old tool, we do it and hope that one day the way of using content will change a bit too. The blog is a kind of dinosaur, it is totally out of the digital consultation mode, it is a bit the beginning of the digital era. But I’m attached to it.

Massimo Vitali, “Rosignano Milk Maddalena Penitente”, 2020, fotografia digitale, courtesy dell’artista

You mentioned an anthropological approach: the photo as a reading of society. Is your famous elevated point of view metaphorical?
It is mandatory, it’s something I couldn’t do without because my point of view is what gives me the ability to see and study. If someone goes to a beach and looks at what’s happening, do they see the same things I see? I’m interested in seeing more, so I put myself in a position where I can see better. A critic once said a long time ago that I put myself in an elevated position without feeling superior to people: “Higher without feeling superior”. This is a bit the key to my work. I want to see more, but I also want to be close to people.

What is shadow for you?
It’s like the devil, it’s a horrible and dark thing.

Where will we see you next?

This summer at the Gmunden Photo and in November at the Photolux Festival in Lucca.



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