“I hate beautiful pictures,” he says, when we meet him at his home in Lucca, Italy, itself a rather – for want of a better word – beautiful Tuscan town, still surrounded by its original Renaissance-era city walls. Mr Vitali lives here in a deconsecrated 14th-century church, its vast interior repurposed for modern family life via a series of stand-alone internal structures and decorated with tastefully minimal Italian furniture – from an 18th-century linen closet to modernist daybeds and lurid armchairs. It’s beautiful too, really. But Mr Vitali is not in the business of beauty. It just seems to happen to him.

“I mean, I’ve been consistently trying not to make beautiful pictures for a long time,” he says. “There are two things that really bug me, one is the ‘beautiful picture’ thing, and the second is ‘where was this picture taken?’. Because if someone asks that, then… you’ve failed. My pictures are not geographic. They should be banal, maybe, but not beautiful and they should not discover a territory. They are about millions of other things.”

It’s true. […] “My subject,” he says, “is trying to understand what we’re doing, what I’m doing, what the people that I photograph are doing.” It’s a subject filled with irony – the queueing, fussing, splashing people in each location seem completely unaware of the bigger picture. That’s something only we as viewers, and Mr Vitali as the photographic voyeur, are privy to.

“This is in Sicily, Cefalù. In Naples they make these nativities of Christ, these little diorama landscapes with houses. And the houses are exactly like this. And here we have the sea. So it’s a total fantasy world. And in this total fantasy world, what attracted my fantasy was three things. First of all there are these three men [bottom centre]. Each one has different coloured trunks: orange, yellow and blue. So this already attracted my attention. Then, this mother [bottom right]… this could be out of any Renaissance painting. Except for the inflatable.”

Adam Welch, Mr Massimo Vitali in Mr Porter.