Vittorio Sella was an Italian photographer and mountaineer, who took photographs of mountains which are regarded as some of the finest ever made.
He wad born in Biella in the foothills of the Alps in 1859. He made a number of significant climbs from a young age. He was the first person to make a winter ascent opf the Matterhorn and Monte Rosa, as well as the first winter traverse of Mont Blanc. He took part in several expeditions further afield, including three to the Caucasus (where a peak now bears his name), to Mount Saint Elias in Alaska, to the Rwenzori in Africa, and the 1909 expedition to K2 and the Karakoram. The latter three expeditions were in the company of Luigi Amedeo, Duke of the Abruzzi.
Sella was the first person to take photographs of the high Alps from the top peaks, looking across the landscape. Sella was 21 when he decided to combine his love of photography with that for mountaineering. The high quality of his photography was in part due to his use of 30×40 photographic plates, in spite of the difficulty of carrying the bulky and fragile equiptment to such remote places. He had to invent his own equiptment, including modified pack saddles and rucksacks, to allow these particularly large glass plates to be transported safely. The resulting prints were both popular and influential.
Sella worked in all four seasons and under the most difficult circumstances, documenting the highest regions of the earth with extraordinary artistry. Ansel Adams paid tribute to Sella’s greatness in a 1946 article for the Sierra Club Bulletin when he wrote, “with Sella’s sensitive insight and response the magnificence of mountains is distilled into a high order of expression.”
Throughout his career, Sella traveled in the Caucasus, Alaska, the Himalayas, and even Africa’s Ruwenzori Mountains to take photographs of the expansive landscapes. Sella passed away in Biella in 1943.
Sella combined an aesthetic appreciation of the grandeur of mountains inherited from the Romantics with the technological developments of the nineteenth century. His images demonstrated not only his skills as a mountaineer but also his ability to give a real sense of the immensity and beauty of his subjects.
Sella continued to climb into his old age, and made his last attempt on the Matterhorn at seventy six. The attempt failed when one of his guides was injured in an accident.
Sella died in Biella in 1943. His collection of photographs is now managed by the Sella Foundation