Massimo Vitali is a self-described “Concerned Photographer.” Part devoted aesthete, part social researcher, his work straddles the border between a documentation of and an active inquiry into modern life in the West. A new solo exhibition at London’s Ronchini Gallery continues his project, showcasing works by the artist from the period between 2011 and 2014.
Vitali is particularly well known for capturing the ways in which people spend their free time. The art historian Whitney Davis describes his major interest as “The inner conditions and disturbances of normalcy - its cosmetic fakery, sexual innuendo, commodified leisure, deluded sense of affluence, and rigid conformism.” Vitali uses this attribution on his online portfolio, suggesting that Davis’ words get to the heart of his artistic intentions.
Known for his large scale renderings of leisure scenes from outdoor beauty spots in his native Italy, Vitali is celebrated for his ability to observe whilst also making an implicit statement. Sometimes described as voyeuristic, his faraway shots are fascinating in their doubleness. At first glance they depict eye-catching swathes of rich colour, but on closer inspection they reveal many minute, human details of the sun-worshipping revellers Vitali is so preoccupied by.
Vitali’s work merges the human and natural worlds. Not only does he document the locations he photographs - he also wordlessly attempts to get to the bottom of the motivations of the people who spend their time at them. His investigative tendencies are probably rooted in his early work as a photojournalist in 1960’s Europe, which he undertook after graduating from the London College of Printing.
Though he briefly became a cinematographer during the 1980’s, Vitali’s greatest creative love has always been the still camera. After major sea changes in Italy’s political sphere, he was reinvigorated with interest in observing his fellow countrymen, beginning the Beaches Project in the early 1990’s.
It a latter-years extension of this project which will be viewable in this latest exhibition, which marks Vitali’s first UK solo exhibition in 5 years. It launches Friday 20th May, to coincide with the upcoming Photo London event at Somerset House, a weekend-long celebration of worldwide photographic talent, both established and emerging.
It seems apt that Vitali’s work should be linked with such a global event, considering the way in which it attempts to both answer and pose questions about fundamental human nature. Why do we spend our leisure time the way we do? What exactly is so exciting and unnerving about observing depictions of groups of people en masse against natural backdrops?
Observing an almost god-like distance from his subjects, who appear miniscule in his wide-span images, Vitali gives us a great deal of non-verbal food for thought. We can’t wait to get up close and personal with his highly detailed, confronting images (as well as giving ourselves some extreme holiday envy…)
This exhibition runs from 20th May until 18th June at Ronchini Gallery, W1S 1AN.
All images: massimovitali.com Words: Lauren O’Neill