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Entering a New World: Reviewed by Blake Andrews


Book Review Entering a New World Photographs by Massimo Vitali Reviewed by Blake Andrews Whether relaxing beachside, exploring the ruins of the Roman Forum or navigating a crowded shopping promenade, Vitali’s pictures are topographical celebrations and subtle critiques of our changing habits of leisure.
Entering a New World. By Massimo Vitali.
https://www.photoeye.com/bookstore/citation.cfm?catalog=DT623
Entering a New World  
Photographs by Massimo Vitali

Steidl, Gottingen, Germany, 2019. 
208 pp., 115 illustrations, 11½x14¼".

"That book is enormous!” cried my wife upon spotting Entering a New World, the new monograph by Italian photographer Massimo Vitali. Her reaction is a good summary review. Every aspect of the book is gargantuan. It’s more than 14 inches across, 11 inches tall, weighs 6.4 pounds, and covers ten years of shooting. For most of his career, Vitali has used large-format cameras to absorb acres of subject matter all at once, every corner reproduced in exquisite detail. There are no half measures here. Instead, we are presented with a full-corpus embrace of the world.

Entering a New WorldBy Massimo Vitali.
Vitali is best known for photographing public beach scenes, a series he started in 1995 and has continued since. Leafing through these images, the viewer is impressed by the sheer variety of the planet’s coasts. Rocky headlands, smooth sand, bluffs, boulders, industrial sites, and so on. Each one is firmly occupied by recreational individuals, together forming a bewildering montage of possibility. Vitali photographs other situations too. Just about any place will do so long as it’s actively inhabited by people. A marketplace, ice rink, boulevard, stadium, or park. Whatever the location, he sets up a camera off to the side —often propped on a tall podium for better vantage— and then observes without interfering.

At a general level, Vitali’s photos are cultural documents, depicting the raw dynamics of human behavior in the context of the natural world. But his methodology creates such an intricate level of detail that it surpasses simple description. They might be considered information motherlodes, ready to be picked apart in any number of ways. There’s a ‘Where’s Waldo’ dimension as the viewer sifts through small artifacts and signs, looking not for Waldo, but just immersing in the scene, taking it in.

Entering a New WorldBy Massimo Vitali.

Pictures of crowds have taken on a new, nostalgic cast within the context of coronavirus. Although they aren’t long in the past, and the book is recently printed, the photos seem to represent a distant historical era. Each one is a lesson in non-social distancing. Was it really just a few months ago that such crowds were normal? Unwittingly, Vitali’s pictures have become imbued with a wistful charm, like an old family album. A reminder that one never knows how future events might twist the present record.

Entering a New WorldBy Massimo Vitali.
Speaking of future events, Vitali has begun transitioning in recent years from large format film to digital capture. The book covers some of both. It’s sequenced chronologically and the transition happens roughly at the midpoint. The result is a book shot half on film, half on digital. There is no noticeable difference aesthetically, and without the caption index, there’d be no way of discerning the change. But from a practical standpoint, one imagines that it must make a huge difference when carting around equipment and setting up elevated shots.

Entering a New World is merely the latest in a set of three (so far) such Steidl books. The first two were released around 2011. Collectively they’re intended as an ongoing Vital retrospective. Assuming that Vitali stays productive, we should anticipate more in the future. Of course, if he's as energetic as his work, one or two or five more books would not come as a surprise.

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Entering a New WorldBy Massimo Vitali.

Blake Andrews is a photographer based in Eugene, OR. He writes about photography at blakeandrews.blogspot.com.

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