“Since my school days I’ve been interested in photography and my interest went on forever with ups and downs. At a very late age, I started realizing that only following strict concepts I would have really achieved what I had been looking for my all life. Luckily enough, my early fifties coincided with photography becoming contemporary art. I jumped on the bandwagon and maybe it worked for me.”
Born in 1944, Vitali receives his first camera as a gift at the age of 12. He starts his career as a photo reporter and continues as a Director of Photography in the film industry. In the early 1990s, he focuses on large formats and “staged” images that do not seek the “decisive moment” but take shape from prolonged waiting periods and an analytical, rational look.
In summer 1994, Vitali takes his first photograph on the beach in Marina di Pietrasanta. This marks the beginning of a successful series, which over the decades has consolidated him as one of the leading photographers on the international scene. All the elements that will characterize Vitali’s modus operandi in the years to come are in that picture already: the camera tripod – that essentially is the elevated platform on which the artist is standing – is in the water in front of the shoreline, raised above the coast by 5-6 metres. The large-format camera (20×25) – the only one he had left after his equipment was stolen – allows him to record every single detail. A theatrical piece is staged by unwitting actors, immortalized in an endless number of small episodes.
The artist is moved by a sociological intent and a voyeuristic spirit. He identifies the beach as the privileged place to draft a socio-anthropological manual of Italian identity. The frontal view and the elevated position – the so-called “prince’s point of view” – allow him to capture wide landscape views as well as to delve into the intimacy of human interactions.
Although Vitali’s coasts are noisy and colourful puzzles of bathers, swimsuits, deckchairs, and sun loungers, the resulting image reveals his active awareness of art history: the descriptive and meticulous realism of the Flemish “ars nova”; the Renaissance perspective; the panoramic scenes of the eighteenth-century landscape painters; as well as some classic iconographies of Italian and European painting, such as the image of the “bather” and the “diver.”
Vitali’s beaches are often urbanized (Viareggio, Catania) or industrialized coasts, such as Rosignano Solvey, a small town in the province of Livorno, Tuscany. The town appears for the first time in Vitali’s photographs in 1995 (Rosignano Fins).
In the early 2000s as well as in the summer of 2020, when the artist embarked on a national tour to observe the lifestyle of Italians after three months of lockdown. In these last shots of Rosignano, the theme of environmental pollution is replaced by sociological considerations, such as the beach as a place for social inclusion and the evolution of multiculturalism over the years.
Among other photographs taken in 2020, the first images captured on the coasts near his place (Foce del Serchio Mirage and Marina di Massa capannina bianca – Vogue hope) are far from the exuberant vitality of the previous gatherings of holidaymakers. The desire for freedom mixes with the spectre of a new closure.
His large-scale color images have been exhibited worldwide in important museums and foundations including the Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum (New York), Centro de Arte Reina Sofia, (Madrid), Stedelijk Museum (Amsterdam), Centre Pompidou (Paris), National d’Art Moderne (Paris), Museo Luigi Pecci (Prato), the Museum of Contemporary Art (Denver).
He has done different editorial commissions for leading publications including New York Times, Vanity Fair, Condé Nast, National Geographic, Vogue Italia, Wallpaper, Wall Street Journal, Financial Times.
He now lives and works in Lucca, Italy.