Photographer Massimo Vitali (b. 1944) considers the intersection of land and sea with a new series of works that portray the end of the terrestrial human habitat and the beginning of the aqueous. On view at Benrubi Gallery, Disturbed Coastal Systems reflects Vitali’s recognised style of heavily populated pictures captured with an elevated, distant perspective. Created by assembling thousands of square meters in the frame, the images simultaneously magnify the grandness of the landscape and multiply the presence of the human.
Considered as landscapes, the series is overtly covered in scenes of crowds: illustrating the artist’s interest in pushing the limitations of the photographic frame by its sheer content. As with his previous works, the tension between human habitat and the natural world is ever-present. In one, the vast Praia da Torre Fortress shadows a beach in Portugal; in another, the Praia do Moinho juts out into the water. Concrete pools box off sections of water from adjacent rivers and seas, and a concrete pier meanders out beyond a beach.
Although it could be said that some of Vitali’s human subjects revel in their surroundings, for example a girl is seen cartwheeling and a boy cannonballing into the water, many of figures stand with their gaze aimed at the horizon as if keeping watch. This emphasises the fact the coastline depicted is the one along which more than a million Syrian, Afghan and Iraqi refugees first arrived in Europe, and not all of them alive. One this concept enters your mind, it infiltrates every image within the series, urging the viewer to look out for new arrivals on the horizon.
Massimo Vitali, Disturbed Coastal Systems, until 17 June, Benrubi Gallery, New York.
1. Massimo Vitali, Disturbed Coastal Systems, 2017. Courtesy of the artist and Benrubi Gallery.