How do you manage your personal and your work life? Is there a clear separation between the two for you?
Always separate for me. The studio is not far from my house, a nice place where I can go by bike. I remember years ago I had my studio and my home in the same place … impossible! The simple act of riding my bicycle for four minutes changes my mind into studio mode and when I go home I think about home. I consider myself a professional photographer, because I have always been a photographer. I’ve done many things but mainly a lot of pictures. At one point my way of taking pictures changed and I became an artist, but I’m still a photographer, really. Someone recently found a magazine from 53 years ago, which is amazing, it’s a long time ago! I was already taking pictures at that time. Today I can be both a photographer for commercial jobs and an artist. I like it because it helps me being part of real life. I don’t like the idea of being just an artist who only thinks about art. I prefer doing both. Photography gives you the possibility to be a photographer and an artist at the same time. It’s nice. Sometimes being an artist is a bit too heavy for me.

What keeps you healthy and happy in general?
I guess my work! I also make plans as if I was 50 but I’m 74 so I can’t actually make plans for the next twenty years like before. I still do though, because it feels good and it gives me energy. Last week I bought a new bicycle, but who knows how long I will be able to ride it, you know? Maybe I didn’t need it, but it’s a pleasure to treat yourself sometimes. I also ordered the Tesla Cybertruck!

Oh, when will this arrive? It will probably take some more years, no?
Exactly, but you know, that’s what keeps you alive, long term plans.

On your Instagram you are very transparent with your process, and that’s very inspiring to see. It’s encouraging, especially for those starting out on a similar path, to notice we all sit in the same boat. We normally only see the final outcome, the perfect picture, without realizing the process to get there. It’s easy to fall into the trap of thinking the person is simply a genius, and that no real work was required…
Yes, because everything comes out of this box. I’m very transparent because I guess a lot of people want to find their own way of doing things. I’m generous with my communication. I’m very normal, I do very normal things, I tell everyone everything I do, so I have a more democratic approach to my art, which I like. I like to share a lot of what I do. When I search for a new place, I take only my phone, make a picture, and I share this with everyone. I’m never thinking too much before showing a picture.

You started your famous beach series in the beginning of the 1990s when you were 51 years old. Do you have any tips for young people that are afraid that they are already “too old”?
Never be afraid to be too old. I started taking pictures when I was 12 and I was taking bad pictures. The work I was doing was mediocre. So you do some mediocre works and you have bad results, but the moment you have something good, somehow it comes through. It’s not like a century ago, where you would have this fantastic painter and nobody knew about him and then he died and years after we would find his work and he becomes famous, but unfortunately too late! We’re lucky it’s not like this anymore. If you do a good job, you have a great chance of being recognized. Everything is based on communication. But nowadays everyone wants to break through too quickly. When I started with the beach series I already went through a lot of experiences, I lived a full life and I put my life in the pictures.

A lot of what you experience in life is revealed in your work. It’s an accumulation of everything, even if not immediately obvious, but it’s all the result of living a full life…
Yes. My doors are open, and people come here and stay for days or weeks. I always tell them, forget photography, start reading everything you can about art and look at millions of pictures and then you get ideas. I remember one day when I was starting the beach series I was thinking why aren’t we doing photographs like paintings in the Renaissance? They were filling their canvas with people. Faces, angels, god, all sorts of people. The church wanted a painting, and it had to be full of things, otherwise why spend money for this? (laughs). They wanted the artist to suffer a bit. You needed to put your thoughts and effort in it. This is what I’ve learned in the last years. The day before yesterday I went to the Uffizi in Florence, now is a good time to go because it’s still quiet. And I start thinking about the paintings. It’s not only the composition but what’s behind it. Why all those things where painted. Who was paid for this. I don’t think that a good picture is enough. It has to have some history behind it.

Talking about the past, is there a failure that turned out to be actually a good thing, a great lesson you learned from? …it seems you realized already that photojournalism isn’t your thing.
Yes, the fact that I was never a good photojournalist turned out well! But photojournalism is part of me and the way I take pictures now. I think in situations where dramatic things happen, there is always also something totally unimportant happening. Something from common life. A tragic scene, and behind it a woman is buying flowers at the florist. This is what reality is made of, not just the tragic scene or any scene that goes in one direction, but the many things happening at the exact same time. This is the complexity of life. We don’t want life to become just one TV show. At least we must have three or four TV shows going on at the same time! (Laughs)

What do you feel most grateful for in your life, Massimo?
Many things! I have a nice family and good friends. If you give something, it always comes back. I’m always trying to be kind with everybody, so there are a lot of people that are kind with me. I have a good relationship with my colleagues. This is important because it makes your work better. My assistant is boringly meticulous (laughs). And I’m the opposite. When I’m taking a picture and he’s with me, looking at the screen and saying “this is not sharp”, I answer “what do you mean this is not sharp?” And this thing goes on for half an hour, but at the end I’m very grateful that he is telling me those things. It’s always worth it. I always want to do it quickly, but then they stop me immediately. I would take so many pictures but they insist that instead I take perfect pictures, which is not easy, but I try my best.

Massimo, what does being present means to you?
Ah, lots of things! Being present means being interested in life, interested in what is happening right in front of you. And being able to share your knowledge with other people, being able to give back. I try to be very much present. It is not easy but it is what I try to be all the time. Sometimes my wife says “you didn’t tell me that you’re doing this!”, I forgot, because I’m too present when at the studio but also too present at home. I try to be present everywhere.

Hugo Hoppmann & Sarah Discours, Massimo Vitali, Present 2020.