Massimo Vitali’s unmanipulated, large-format photographs capture structures dedicated to leisure and the bodies that populate them. A former photojournalist, since the early 1990s Vitali has been a devotee of what might be called ‘slow photography’, meticulously planning each image to produce a small number of perfectly set up shots – using a 11 x 14 Deardorff camera on a 6-metre-high tripod.
His current exhibition at London’s Ronchini Gallery shows Vitali’s acclaimed series of beach scenes and swimming pool photographs alongside studies of natural inland pools and unlikely tourist destinations like the Volkswagen kids park.
In pools, marinas and public parks from his native Italy to Brazil, Vitali captures the ad-hoc structures that people create around themselves to establish an illusion of privacy and domestic space. Such structures can be as simple as a beach towel among hundreds in ‘Catania, Under the Volcano (2007)’, or the chairs, rugs and napery of the picnickers in the Jardins de Luxembourg in ‘Picnic Allée (2000)’.
Vitali’s photographs show the contrast between a localised architectural fantasy and the built reality beyond it. In ‘De Haan Kiss (2001)’ the ersatz tropical paradise surrounding the swimming pool gives onto metal girders and a plastic roof. Revellers in the apparently bucolic setting of London’s Greenwich Park are overlooked by the inscrutable glass towers of the city’s financial district.
‘For Vitali, architectural structures play the role of backdrop or scenery, secondary to the interaction of the anonymous characters and crowds within the photographs,’ explains gallery director Roxanna Farboud. ‘Rather than the focus being on the location or the beauty of the images, his works are a comment on us and our society; capturing unguarded social interaction.’
From his raised perspective, Vitali shows the human desire to impose order on natural surrounding. In works such as ‘Genova Pegli East (2000)’ we see the backdrop of the coast facing off against deckchairs in strict ranks, grids of scaffolding or the hard edges of a rectangular swimming pool.