The images are crowded and dense and rich with banal detail. Large masses of people congregate closely together — trying to relax or play — while wedged between the sea and man-made industrial urban landscapes. Tourists suffer together in the summer heat of Europe’s historic attractions, surrounded by contemporary visual clutter and hounded by hucksters...

There is so much happening in each of these photos, and yet nothing is really happening, and perhaps that is what makes them so fascinating, Vitali says his work is the exact opposite of Cartier-Bresson’s approach to the decisive moment, yet the moments he chooses are rich in many other ways.

Vitali has been doing this for a few years now, and has perfected his technique. He sets up his custom-made perch 20 to 30 feet in the air, frames the landscape background he plans to capture with his 8 x 10 or 11 x 14 camera, and then waits for the landscape to fill up with people and their individual dramas. While he waits, he becomes invisible and very attentive. When the moment is right — when the field is filled with complexity and a multitude of interactions — he releases the shutter.

When viewed as “normal” size (mural size) prints, you are confronted with hundreds of candid “portraits” and overall sociologically-rich documents. The guilty pleasures of voyeurism are heightened by the large scale and intricate detail. Your eyes are drawn from one situation to the next, and your imagination begins to create little stories to explain these random frozen moments.

In a lively, candid interview with Jim Casper, Vitali talks about scale, detail and his working methods. You can listen to a 6 minute audio excerpt here. Also, be sure to check out the cool “zoomify” feature on Vitali’s website.

— Jim Casper

Landscape with Figures 
by Massimo Vitali
Clothbound, 15.25 x 11.75 in.

300 pgs, 150 color images.