In the first volume of Landscape with Figures published in 2004, Massimo Vitali showed his entire oeuvre from the nineties, broadening the scope of his survey of beaches and discos to include skiing resorts and swimming pools from across the globe. Since 2007 Vitali has modified his perspective, shifting between an architectural background and a volume Natural Habitats, comprises seventy photographs, spanning from 2004 to 2009 – also includes a “genealog – ical tree” of his photographs: 120 thumbnail images which make visual connections by color, composition and time.
In the human communities photographed by Massimo Vitali there are specific kinds of modern (even definably Mediterranean or American) social habits to be observed in some of their characteristic configurations. Vitali frames his pictures of these reflexes with ironic and in the end anxious questions: is it only in “taking it easy,” “going on vacation,” or “being a tourist” that human beings nowadays peacefully group themselves in the cocoon of their own kind? that they serenely expose themselves to the stroking of nature? that they can or want to do so? that their world contains places for it? that it can really be as safe and healthy as it looks?
Regardless of its acute sociological observation, one of the most striking results of Vitali’s photographic zoology is its visual discovery of instinctive conformities of human being regardless of locale or language, at least at the special—even peculiar—sites he has chosen to study. If this is anthropology, it reveals a human ecology. And if it is social criticism, it is not hostile to society—Vitali seems to have great affection for the communities he portrays—but rather intended to clarify what kind of society we are, or perhaps could be. The instincts that Vitali sees in his subjects might be our greatest resource and resilience; they might also be the very reason for lack and loss today. For to conform ourselves to the world is also to allow the world to conform us.
Whitney Davis “Massimo Vitali’s Mammals” in Natural Habitats, Göttingen, Steidl, 2010, pp. 131 – 143.