Life's a beach for Massimo Vitali

If you're ever sunbathing on a beach near Lucca there is a strong possibility that Massimo Vitali will be somewhere on the cliff tops, capturing the scene for one of his beach panoramas!

Vitali has a very distinct style, producing over-exposed and often minimalist scenes of beach-goers. His panoramas offer an alternative view of what can often be a ciched scene of yellow sand and blue sky above burning sun-worshippers  below. 

Having asked Massimo Vitali for permission to use one of his images to illustrate my blog post! I was very excited that he was more than happy for me to do so and that he invited me to ask him about his work. This was such an unexpected opportunity, I took some time thinking about what I could ask that would be worthwhile to myself and others. Having studied Digital Photographic Practice I was curious to his reasons for the way he processes his images, so that would be included in my interview with him below:

Matt: I really like how you over-expose your beach images. Is this to emphasise the beach-goers, or is there another reason for using this effect? 

Massimo: It's to get rid of the blue shadows that normally haunt beaches in the summer. 


Matt: what was it that inspired you to photograph beach scenes?

Massimo: Although I stumbled upon the beach subject quite by accident, I later understood that beaches are a very good mirror of our society. 


Matt: Was the beach a place that you enjoyed spending time at when you were younger? 

Massimo: Of course! And still enjoy my time on the beach (when I'm not taking pictures). 


I was extremely grateful for Massimo Vitali taking the time to give me further insight into his work. It has helped me to understand more about photographer's intentions and choices.

Massimo Vitali is currently working on two projects, 'Disco' and 'Pools'. These are two more settings where human interaction can be studied photographically. I find 'Pools' a particularly interesting concept. The swimming pool can be a place where people's inhibitions are washed away. The uniforms of hierarchy and responsibility are concealed in the changing rooms, creating a society of equality in the pool. No one person stands out from another.

Massimo Vitali's recent work can be viewed on his website at





Thomas Struth

Thomas Struth, a German photographer who trained at the Dusseldorf Academy of Fine Arts (1973 - 80), was influenced by Bernd and Hilla Becher's industrial landscape images. Some of his first exhibited works included capturing the streets of Japan, Europe and America in black and white. Struth's photographs were highly structured, to show what was specific and yet unremarkable about urban space. Taken on large-format cameras, the people, who inhabited his cityscapes, were dwarfed almost to non-existence.

It was during the mid-1980s that Struth created a series of portraits of individuals, and family groups, having collaborated with the psychoanalyst Ingo Hartmann exploring family snapshots. He used a large-format camera to capture the character of the people in his images. Struth's studentship in fine art is echoed in his use of tonal colour and composition. His family portraits are not uniform in their arrangement, but undulate in the same way that families can haphazardly co-exist. 

During his interest in portraiture, Struth became interested in the Renaissance paintings and the gallery's that they were exhibited in. This interest led to his best known work, Museum Photographs, being produced. This series of images set up a relationship between the viewer and the paintings that were visible in the photograph. He refers to this body of work by saying that:

"My question was: how can you not be restless? I can now see that the same question seeped somehow into the work insofar as I was trying to take the restlessness from inside myself and put it into the pictures and on to the walls."

Thomas Struth's work reveals how the photographer is very much part of the picture, giving the viewer an insight into his own mind. As a photographer sometimes it is not until you are in the middle, or nearing the end of a project, that you fully understand the desire to create such photographs. It is only through embarking on long term studies that enables the photographer to give something of themselves to a body of work. Maybe this is where the line is drawn between the tourist snapshot and something with more intrinsic value. The tourist is documenting, recording their presence at a particular location at a very basic surface level. However Struth attempts to reveal the invisible feelings of restlessness, calm and strangeness. There always seems to be the viewer's need to know more about what is beyond the frame.

Struth considers a gallery to have a sense of an in between space. An environment where people rarely spend their time, and when they do they are unsure how to act acceptably.  

In an interview with O'Hagan (2011) Thomas Struth explains the motives for his photographs:

"For me, initially, the question was: how do you live with history? Then I began to ask: how is history embedded in the architecture of a city? How does a community represent itself in its architecture, truthfully or otherwise?"

Life is an endless pursuit, to not only find answers, but to also understand the questions we ask and our reasons for asking them. This exploration of how a place's history can impact on the people that live there today. It is something I would like to explore further in my fifth assignment. Photography is Struth's method of communicating what concerns him, both socially and politically. Subsequently  O'Hagan (2011) refers to him as a political artist. 

With photography banned in many art galleries, to be able to view photographs that have been so openly executed, is in itself quite unique. Interestingly, the difficulty in preventing visitors taking selfies on their smartphones in the National Gallery has led to a photography ban being lifted. If the attraction of 'stealing' a rare self-portrait in the gallery, to post on social media, becomes more commonplace, then maybe less people will be encouraged to do it.



Massimo Vitali

Vitali worked as a photojournalist and a cinematographer in the 1960's. Vitali's work is over-exposed like the sunbathers he is photographing. His images are characterised by large space or people packed together, unaware of him photographing above. Sunbleached images suggest subtle hues.

Marked contrast with Martin Parr's staged photography. Vitali's subjects are often unaware and those that see themselves in the final print are sent a free complimentary copy. 

Photo permission kindly granted by © Massimo Vitali


I tend to imagine famous photographers taking photographs with the same type of equipment as the general public. However this can't be the case due to the superior images that they are capable of producing. Vitalis' photographs are 6ft wide views of Italian beach-goers. Whilst working to coursework deadlines I have thought of my photographs as being part of finite projects, however knowing that Vitali' work is on-going reinforces to me that even after I have completed People and Place I should explore my ideas further. Vitali lives close to Pisa and often  revisits the rocky coastal areas with fresh eyes. He refers to the people in his panoramas as butterflies pinned in a case, because they can't escape. I wonder how many photographs we play a part in, blissfully unaware of our role as subject in another's image. 

For someone who dedicates so much time to photography you would think Vitali would have built up thousands of images and yet he states that: "In 15 years, I've only taken 4,500 negatives. When I have a good picture, I don't need to take 100 of them. It's there." It might take him all day to get 'the photo' he's after and then doesn't see the need to aimlessly clog up his camera with unwanted images. Out of the hundreds of images we take I wonder how many we will refer back to within a day, week, month or even a year. You can refer back to some of Massimo Vitali's work at his website


Stranger happenings

I have always been intrigued by how text can be combined with an image to construct a meaningful photograph, but never really knew where to look for inspiration. Cotton (2011) offered me some inspiration in her first chapter by introducing me to the work of Gillian Wearing's 'Signs that say what you want them to say and not signs that say what someone else wants you to say'. 

Gillian Wearing approached strangers on the streets of London and asked them to write something about themselves on a white piece of card. 

Gillian Wearing approached strangers on the streets of London and asked them to write something about themselves on a white piece of card. 

Wearing's resulting photographs 'revealed the emotional stress and personal issues that were occupying their minds' (Cotton, C. 2011, p. 30) that passers by would otherwise fail to notice. 

Usually it is the portrait photographer who is in control of the subject, being able to manipulate their muse within their studio. Wearing has relinquished this control, allowing the subject self-determination of the photograph's message. Her method transcends that of traditional portrait photographers, capturing the profundity and experience of everyday life. However, Gillian Wearing is still in control of the strangers she invites to be photographed and which images will be included in the final collection.  

Shizuka Yokomizo adopts a similar method of transference of control to the subject, who is unknown to her. Yokomizo's 'Stranger' (1999) involved her sending letters to potential subjects who would be easily photographed at a ground floor window, at a particular time in the evening.  Each willing participant kept their curtains open and lights on, posed in anticipation to be photographed by a stranger. Yokomizo produced 19 photographs in which the subject dictated the pose and clothing worn. Cotton (2011) likened the windows to mirrors, as if the strangers are looking at themselves, in anticipation of being photographed. The 'mirror' marks the physical space that separates the seer from the seen.

Angier (2007, p.72) sums up this encounter as: 

"a zero-degree confrontation in which the pre-condition for intimacy is present, but intimacy itself is left deliberately unfulfilled." 

A stranger stands at her front window, waiting to be photographed by a stranger. 

A stranger stands at her front window, waiting to be photographed by a stranger. 

Unlike most voyeuristic portraiture, Yokomizo's subject are aware that they will be photographed by a stranger, having been informed anonymously by letter, saying:

Dear Stranger, 

I am an artist working on a photographic project which involves people I do not know...I would like to take a photograph of you standing in your front room from the street in the evening.  

Angier (2007) points out that The salutation on Yokomizo's letter is a paradox, suggesting both intimacy (Dear) and distance (stranger). 

Some portrait photographers could be considered to have an air of arrogance in knowing how the sitter should pose in order to produce the right type of image. Both Wearing and Yokomizo allow us more information about their subjects by allowing them greater influence in creating the scene.  


Angier, R. (2007). Train your gaze: a practical and theoretical introduction to portrait photography. Switzerland: AVA Publishing SA

Cotton, C. (2011). The photograph as contemporary art. New edition. London: Thames and Hudson.  



Martin Parr

One of the most popular street photographers is Martin Parr, who creates thought-provoking images. Instead of focusing on each individual image in isolation, he considers them to be part of sets, or projects, to present a stronger message or statement.

Whilst watching Parr's Tate Shots interview (above) I was surprised to hear that a lot of his work is 'constructed' and that it is fictional. I had always thought, perhaps naively, that Martin Parr looked to capture the 'decisive moment' in his images. Maybe this makes images even more intriguing to the viewer who perceives them as reality. Photographers allure to achieving a 'style' of photography, a type of image that can be assigned to them. Parr has achieved this, not through technique, but through the messages he wants to convey about how he perceives society. Parr's photographic projects can be easily recognised for their humour, and colour. They contain larger than life characters locations that we can associate with.

© Martin Parr 1990 Small World: The Leaning Tower of Pisa, Italy (Permission granted). Tourists pose as if holding the famous tower. 

© Martin Parr 1990 Small World: The Leaning Tower of Pisa, Italy (Permission granted). Tourists pose as if holding the famous tower. 

Parr's career began at the Butlins holiday resort in Filey, where he made his name documenting a particular kind of Englishness. 

Martin Parr's work has got me thinking about how my assignments should link together with an underlying message or statement. When planning my next assignment I should be thinking of the overall theme rather than 12 individual images. During DPP my assignments were very clearly thought out, but I realise that this shouldn't always be the case. You can go out with the aim of capturing a particular type of shot, but not at the expense of missing something better.