The everyday through Massimo Vitali’s beach series

Ceren Hamiloğlu’s text was among the four selected proposals submitted for‘s open call for young art writers and artists who express themselves in the text form. With this open call, we wanted to expand our discussions through commissioning texts on art and to develop our relationship with young art writers for future collaborations. The subject of the open call was a straightforward yet complicated and urgent one: How do visual arts transform the daily life? We asked this question to writers who were born after November 9, 1989, the fall of the Berlin Wall.

Massimo Vitali, Piscinão de Ramos, Brazil, 2013.

Ceren Hamiloğlu

Massimo Vitali’s intricate large-scale photographs, the Beach Series in particular, display a section of the “everyday” openly to the viewer: they capture the idle activities of people in various public pools, tourist destinations, or recreational areas that are in no way unreachable or extraordinary. The subjects and spaces of the photographs are and can be seen, experienced and pictured by anyone. They capture the temporality of activities that are a part of everyday life: swimming, lying down, talking, playing, sunbathing… In Vitali’s photographs, we see various natural beaches and their man-made, “manipulated” surrounding as well as completely artificial pools and other elements of the built environment. Through these juxtaposed aspects, Vitali sets an undertone of people-versus-nature or rather, the man-made-versus-natural. The images—and the artist in many of his interviews—allude to depicting a kind of vista of anthropology.

This becomes particularly visible as the photographs are printed in very large sizes and display fine detail; they also emphasize the groups of people as a mass. In this aspect, the bodily engagement is emphasized as this section of life—in its complicated, overlapping and interwoven form—is offered to the viewer with striking realism. I’m not sure whether the anthropological inference from the images can go as far as understanding “the way we are [and] the way we behave” as Vitali suggests in one of his interviews [1], but they definitely suggest a way to notice, observe, and appreciate the everyday.

Massimo Vitali, Catania Under the Volcano, 2007.

I find Vitali’s work appropriate to open up discussions; the work includes a play on the relationships of the subject and the viewer, there is an emphasis on the formal aspects of art and it incorporates everyday encounters. Perhaps the images of the beaches are not as important as the notion of having beaches as a subject. In my opinion, the level of conceptual intricacy in Vitali’s images are achieved through the density of the subject as well as the way in which the subject is displayed and is in return  viewed by its viewer. He seems to pay attention to differentiate human figures from their background by playing with the color and contrast levels. As a result, every individual figure becomes legible and so do the relationships with their surrounding. Nevertheless, this does not create a perception of the figures as individuals, but rather as very intricate elements that construct a massive body.

Piscinão de Ramos (2013) displays the human bodies almost as flocks that capture the large spaces of nature and encompass them through their use. In Vitali’s images, we witness humans inhabiting, organizing and using these spaces. However, although a part of the everyday and very familiar, these are not completely ordinary spaces that we encounter on a regular daily basis. When we think about it, the spaces in Vitali’s photographs are not necessarily natural or human made, but they are liminal spaces that are created and manipulated by their users. Indeed, the beach is neither completely “natural” nor entirely “constructed” because it designates a liminal position between land and sea, or city and nature [2]. The liminality of these spaces is captured through the contrast between the ‘natural’ elements such as the water, the greenery, the rocks etc and the ‘unnatural’ elements such as the buildings and decks as can be seen in Catania Under the Volcano (2007). Together, these elements display “the architecture of leisure”. [3] 

In that sense, the pools or the beaches in Vitali’s work are neither architectural utopias nor fully everyday spaces. As a matter of fact, they are a creation of the urban classes in a liminal setting. Vitali’s photographs capture these in-between spaces that remind me of the term heteropia, coined by Foucault, that is, a space that requires a certain set of rules or actions to enter and exists outside of the norms of time and space [4]. Through practicing these rules, such as wearing a suitable outfit, individuals become a collective of bodies doing the same action and as a result create this space. In other words, we see the process of “spatializing” through the activities and relationships of the people, a term used in architecture to refer to the collective social activities that produce a space, both in its physical and conceptual sense. [5] 

Massimo Vitali, Ricciona Dyptych, 2002. From here, accessed January 20, 2017.

I have no reservations about trying to explain the works of Vitali in spatial terms because defining the ways art interacts with its surrounding has become more involved with architectural notions and has been mentioned in terms of its many “sites” of production, construction and concept over the years [6]. Especially the language used in these interactions is defined under more architectural terms. The narrative of the artwork, both in the way it communicates to its viewer or how it is narrated by a third party are very much defined under spatial terms and how that artwork exists in that space. The notion of space here could take on any of its geographical, physical or conceptual attributions.

The photographs that depict wide and crowded public spaces and recreational areas, especially beaches, capture the social relations that eventually produce the space of that photograph. Their viewer can observe the endless variations of infinitesimal gestures visible through the details. The intricacy and visibility of each individual in the photograph gives the chance to the viewer to change his/her position and vision: the viewer holds the option to either absorb the hegemony of people over nature from a distance or to observe the kind of swimsuit the woman at the far left corner is wearing. Yet, the individuals in the images remain to hold their anonymity.

I believe this is partially achieved by the viewpoint of the photographs: it is always from a raised perspective and gives the impression that the viewer is not one of the users of the spaces displayed. We can assume that Vitali is observing the scene from a detached and superior position, i.e. from a raised platform. In considering the relationship between the viewer and the subject of the artwork, the concept of taking the photograph from a podium reminds me of the notions of position and subjectivity used by feminist scholars such as Donna Harraway. In feminist or post-colonial terms, the vision is particularly important in signifying the position of the male, the dominant or the colonizer because it is “he” who holds the power and the advanced position [7]. Here, Harraway’s discussion of changing vision to inhibit the binary modes of thinking, in terms of gendered positions, could be used to make sense of the positioning present in Vitali’s work. Although he insists on being close to people, the first message that comes across the images is quite the opposite. Although Vitali puts emphasis on individuality, despite the legible details, there is a general feeling of anonymity in his photographs. They are measured and observe the scene from a distance. Vitali admits to adding or changing the locations of figures in his photographs—given the positioning and display of people in the images, perhaps something that could be interpreted as an omnipresent gesture.

Massimo Vitali, Lençois Lagoa do Peixe, 2013.

One of the ways in which art’s ability to change “vision” is through its effects on spatialization or the ways of using space as a production of social relations [8]. The social relations include the experience and perception of the space, in this case the artwork as well, that reciprocally produce that space.

The relations in Vitali’s images appear both in their singularity and as part of a massive network of other relations: individual-individual, individual-crowd, individual-nature, nature-built environment and so on. These relations that constitute the many elements found in Beach Series are simultaneously contemporary and urban. In fact, the city inhabitant and the city itself confront and struggle with these dualities in every moment of their interaction. That is why the subject of Beach Series are both very captivating and banal at the same time. They depict what can be seen everyday yet with an exaltation of that very subject. Beach Series displays the magic of the everyday, both in occupying the space of the photograph and the gaze of the viewer.

All images are sourced from here, accessed January 20, 2017, except where noted. 


[1] Massimo Vitali, Massimo Vitali, interview by Lisa Cancelli, Citizens of Humanity,, accessed January 30, 2017. 

[2] Rob Shields, Places on the Margin: Alternative Geographies of Modernity (London: Routledge, 1990), 166.

[3] Hettie Judah, “Massimo Vitali captures the architecture of leisure,” last modified May 20, 2016,

[4] Michel Foucault and Jay Miskowiec, “Of Other Spaces”, Diacritics 16, 1 (1986), 22-27, accessed August 26, 2016.

[5] Henri Lefebvre, The Production of Space (Oxford: Blackwell, 1991), 1-57.

[6] Jane Rendell, Site-Writing: The Architecture of Art Criticism (New York: I.B. Tauris, 2009), 2-3.

[7] Donna Harraway, “Situated Knowledges: The Science Question in Feminism and the Privilege of Partial Perspective,” Feminist Studies 14 (1988): 581.

[8] Henri Lefebvre, The Production of Space (Oxford: Blackwell, 1991), 1-57.

Edited by Merve Ünsal

Ceren Hamiloğlu received her Bachelor of Architecture from Istanbul Bilgi University and completed her MA in Architectural History from the Bartlett School of Architecture (UCL). She is currently doing her PhD in Architectural Design at Istanbul Technical University and works as a research assistant at Maltepe University Department of Architecture. Her interests include urban geography and 20th century visual culture.