There was a time when Fabrizio Gianni flew all over the world.

He'd travel from Italy to California, to Arizona, to Florida, to Africa and when he got there he'd take photographs. Photographs of beautiful people in beautiful clothes for glossy magazines. French magazines, American magazines, German, even Japanese magazines.

"Bathing suits in winter, fur coats in summer. That's the life of a fashion photographer," he recalls. It was a life that came coated with a shimmer, a cosmopolitan, globe-trotting existence. In his time he has lived and worked in Rome, Milan, London, Paris, New York and Tokyo.

I meet him in Falkirk.

Yes, Falkirk.

Now I like Falkirk. I live in Falkirk. But even with the Kelpies and a team in the Scottish Cup final it might just struggle to match the cosmopolitanism of Paris or New York. So why, you have to ask, are we here?

Well, it's because this is where Gianni lives. Has lived for more than two decades after moving to Scotland from Milan. Ask him why and he'll tell you airport connections.

"The very simple thing is I had to take an aeroplane anyway," he tells me over coffee in the kitchen of his handsome Falkirk home, his Italian accent still strong and sticky like tiramisu. "Basically the calculation was this. How much was I working in Milan and how much was I working abroad? I was much more abroad. Also in Milan the airport is often foggy so you can't land."

So he moved to Scotland instead. Oh yes, there was also the fact that his wife Gail was Scottish. From Larbert originally. She was a model but wanted to come home to study law.

And so here we are. In his Falkirk home, recalling his gilded past in his happily retired present (he's just back from skiing in Italy. He's having a very active third age).

And we're here because at 76 years old Gianni may be about to have a moment.

Two reasons. There is a book being prepared in France of his photographs. And more pressingly there's an exhibition opening this week in his adopted home town, one that might help establish him in the pantheon of fashion photography.

A contemporary of Helmut Newton, Gianni's work appeared in magazines from the early seventies to the turn of the century. Yet there have been no books, no TV documentaries, no magazine retrospectives. Look him up on Google and you'll not find much. You have to wonder if this exhibition represents something of a rediscovery of a lost talent. Does it feel that way to him?

"It does. This is a bit personal. I never really liked the idea that a fashion photographer becomes an artist. Fashion photography is craft. It's nothing else than craft. You take a beautiful girl or a beautiful boy with beautiful clothes to a beautiful location at a time of the day when you love the light, put them all together and you've got the best fruit shake you could do. There is nothing more than that.

"I may have been one of the good ones but that doesn't mean I'm an artist. That's why I never liked to do any show. I never liked to do books. They offered to make books one after the other. I never accepted."

Instead his negatives have languished in various Falkirk cellars - some of which flooded. That's one of the reasons why he accepted the French book deal. "I decided that's a nice idea. To do a great book about ruined negatives."

The question is why they were ruined in the first place? Why has he been so neglectful of his work. "Because, first of all, fashion photography is fashion photography. When the fashion's past the photography is over. I was told by many photographers that my photos are timeless but, on the other hand, you've done it, then you see them printed in the magazines, 90 per cent of the time horribly cut, cropped, destroyed. I was so unhappy with my work. I didn't think it was any good. So I threw them away. Simple as that."

Now, with an exhibition about to open, it's possible for us to put that notion to the test.

Really, if he's honest, Fabrizio Gianni says, he wanted to be a film-maker. He went to film school, became an assistant director in Italy in the 1960s when the spaghetti western was riding high and half of Hollywood was beating a path to the Cinecitta studios in Rome. After film school Gianni wrote scripts and worked as an assistant director on a number of films including The Good, The Bad and the Ugly, directed by Sergio Leone ("My master").

"Basically I had a very quick career in cinema," he says. "Very quick. I was too young. I was 24. I found myself having lunch in Spain with Sergio Leone and Rod Steiger. Then another night I was with Marlon Brando. Now I realise I had an enormous chance which in a way I didn't take."

Maybe, though, he didn't have a choice. The oil crisis at the start of the 1970s hit the film industry hard. Gianni saw things were shaky. "I sold the Mercedes and started to go with the Fiat."

And he also had this sideline. Taking photographs of actors. He didn't charge much at a time when Hollywood photographers were charging thousands of dollars. So soon actors were beating a path to his door. "They found themselves with a new face. A new light. I didn't have an eye for the vertical. I had an eye for the horizontal. Cinema. I used to use a semi-long lens to make the close ups and they loved it. I started to be a photographer without realising it."

Gina Lollobrigida, no less, encouraged him. "Gina had a camera. A Nikon with an engine I'd never seen before. She'd say 'take my picture while I'm shooting', so when I could I would take a picture.

"One day I got a phone call from Gina. She said 'Ragazzo' (little boy) 'your pictures are very good'. She had an agent who was giving it to all the magazines in the world. She said: 'I'll send you a little cheque.'

"It was a very little cheque. But it was something. She said 'you should be a photographer'.

It was a view endorsed by no less than Italian neo-realist director Roberto Rossellini whom Gianni met at a film festival in Spoleto. "I said 'you know very well I'm respected in my profession.' And he said 'tell me how many famous photographers you know by heart. I named him five, six, seven. And then he said now tell me how many famous directors."

The number, Gianni admitted, was considerably more. "He said, 'look, only one dimension, no music, no soundtrack, no movement. You have to say all that in one frame. How difficult is that?' I sat open-mouthed. I started to think about that.

"So one day I was really desperate for money. I took my little Fiat, my two cameras, some money in my pocket and I went to Milan."

What was the attraction of fashion photography? "The money. In Milan I went to the lowest magazine because I wasn't sure of myself. They looked at the photos I had of actors and they said 'are you free tomorrow? We have six pages to do tomorrow.' When I did the job and picked up the pictures from the lab I noticed some were very much better than the others so I took the best ones for me and gave them the worst and they were happy. So with the good ones I went to a better magazine the next day and they said, 'are you free tomorrow?'"

He started working for the Italian magazine Amica often imitating Helmut Newton (when Newton was too busy to reshoot). By the early seventies he was working for Harper's Bazaar and Vogue. All without any training. "I learned my trade doing."

He always preferred being on location to the studio. Usually. He pauses. Looks outside. "Scotland is not good at all for light. It's very harsh."

Gianni's signature style was sun-dappled simplicity and a rich, storied elegance, and usually came dressed in Ralph Lauren or Armani. "Each outfit, each story has a face. I never photographed a famous model unless I made the famous model, including Charlize Theron.

"I never used make-up. I never used a hairdresser. Some lipstick. That was the maximum. I'd take the clothing, put it on the floor and think 'what the hell can I do with this?' I have to make those clothes become human.

"I'm supposed to create a dream for the women. 'Look how sexy the dress is'. My balls. I'm sorry. The dress is not sexy. It's the woman inside the dress that's sexy."

Fashion editors never seemed to understand this, he says. He seems to have a low opinion of them. "They want the famous model. They don't care if the famous model is red-haired when you need black hair."

This is the curious thing. He clearly had a vision of what he wanted, was willing to court disapproval from those who commissioned him to stick to it. Yet he walked away so easily and doesn't seem to have looked back until now.

He shows me a picture he took of his wife for Italian Vogue in 1979. He met Gail Inglis in Milan at her agency. "She had just arrived from London. The agency insisted she had high heels on. Now we're talking a woman who's already one metre 80. I said to the agent, 'what are you going to do with her? She won't fit in anything.'

"But suddenly I saw her without shoes and I thought 'oh'. There was a World Cup and Scotland was playing Brazil. I had a flat near the agency. She asked me if she could see the match and that's how it happened."

Later, when Gianni is having his photograph taken, his wife pops in. She's an advocate now (one of the founders of Lawyers For Yes). But I'm keen to know about her earlier life.

When Fabrizio was shooting, I ask, what was he like to work with? "Very exacting. He was very particular, paid a great attention to detail. Nothing was left to chance. It was very well planned beforehand. 'These shoes don't belong on this set'. That sort of thing. But not difficult to work with."

Ah, but you were probably a special case, Gail. "Oh no. I didn't get any special favours, believe you me."

Gianni and his wife moved to Falkirk at the start of the 1990s and just under 10 years ago Gianni decided to call a halt to his career. "Before I was [given] a first-class ticket. Then suddenly if you want to work you have to pay your own ticket. I didn't need it. I forgot my profession."

The negatives were put in the cellar and he went off to play golf. Gillian Smith, curator of Falkirk's Park Gallery got in touch with him via Glenbervie golf club.

In the last 20 to 30 years, of course, photography has risen to the status of art. He's not so sure it should be. "There are hundreds of photographers in hundreds of museums who I don't think are even good photographers. I'm not saying artists. I say not good photographers. I don't want to say names ... I don't know if they show their pictures or if they talk [about] their pictures. I don't want to talk my [about] photos. I want to have respect for myself, respect for my profession, respect for the people I've been working for. I don't want to be considered one of those who talk about their pictures."

These days, Fabrizio Gianni says, he doesn't even have a camera.

"I've never been a photographer. I was a fashion photographer. They're two different things."

A bit like Paris and Falkirk.

Fabrizio Gianni's Fantasia opens at the Park Gallery in Callendar House, Falkirk on Friday and runs until August 30. On May 9 the Hippodrome, Bo'ness will show The Good, The Bad and The Ugly with the photographer in attendance. The Herald's Alan Morrison will host a Q&A after the screening.