You might recognise these shots as the work of Italian photographer Massimo Vitali, whose stirring, large-format shots of people on beaches are both artwork and social commentary. “When I started 20 years ago, no one was taking pictures of beaches,” he tells us. “Now, everybody does it.”

Vitali has collaborated with French swimwear brand Vilebrequin to produce a pair of limited-edition shorts. He headed to the Côte d’Azur to create a bespoke shot, which even features people wearing the shorts – the models wore white and the print was added in post-production.

Massimo Vitali on beaches

Perfect timing: “When you’ve been watching people on beaches for a long time, you notice there’s a key moment of tension. When people arrive at the beach there’s a little territorial behaviour as they position themselves, then they play, they read, they eat, and at a certain point – maybe at 4:30 or 5pm – people get bored, and when the first people leave, the tension that’s built throughout the day just breaks. After this point, you can do anything you like but you’ll never get a good picture.”

Strength in numbers: “I like a bit of a crowd – the whole idea of the beach is to be among other people. It’s so boring to be on a beach on your own – the first ten minutes are fantastic, but after that it’s really boring. You need enough people to make the beach interesting.”

The power of water: “There’s a big fresco in Pisa cemetery about man and life and death, and after death you have heaven, hell and purgatory. All the souls in purgatory are immersed in water, like the people in my pictures. I think the people that I photograph are purging their sins and getting something from water and nature. Tomorrow they start working, fighting, having problems again – but at that moment on that day, they’re free.”

Shooting from the sea: “When I first started, I had to build some scaffolding to take pictures with my large-format camera because the depth of field is very small – if you want to photograph anything you have to go up. Most pictures of beaches had been taken from the beach looking out to sea, but I wanted to look people in the face, so I positioned my scaffolding in the water.”

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