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Summit---Vittorio Sella photographs

John Kasaian , Aug 12, 2002; 01:09 a.m.

Summit published by Aperture, celebrates the mountain LF Photography of Vittorio Sella in the years 1879-1909. Sella's works feuled the imaginations of the likes of Ansel Adams and Bradford Washburn so I guess my imagination is in good company. Anyone familiar with this book? Haunting mountain landscapes of the Alps, the Caucasus, the Saint Elias Range, the Ruwenzori and the Himalayas. Accompanied by informative essays that put a very real face on a pioneer LF mountain photographer, its a book I found as inspirational as it is beautiful. Many of Sella's expeditions were made as a "recording photographer" for the Duke of Abruzzi, Luigi Amadeo di Savoia. The logistics of LF photography with wet colloid glass plates and a Kinnear 30x40cm camera puts my own LF logistics challenges into perspective. For Sella, like Adams and Washburn, the subject demanded nothing less than LF and the bigger the better. Anybody else out there have a chance to peruse this one? Cheers!


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Arne Croell , Aug 12, 2002; 05:39 a.m.

John, I have this book since about two years. One of the best landscape books I ever bought. Made me want to sign up for an extended trekking tour of the Himalayas with my camera right away - that camera being a 4x5 and with film instead of glass plates it should be childs play in comparison! I do think that the financial backing by the Duke and others (translate that into a sufficient number of porters) probably helped, but that was again offset by the different mountaineering equipment of the time.

Nigel Sutton (UK) , Aug 12, 2002; 08:12 a.m.

Is there a website with examples of his work? I've just come back from the Alps myself where I took only a handful of shots with my Ebony. (but a few more with my GSW690).

Scott Walton , Aug 12, 2002; 09:13 a.m.

I have seen the book a few small times but have worked with the negatives of Sella and know Brad Washburn personally. Brad would come into the lab I worked at years ago and take rolls of his 10" roll film and want to look at it. Before I could turn on the light box he would throw the roll out on the floor. Both of their collections are amazing and (with a good amount of work) were a pleasure to print!!! Brad, I think, still goes to work everyday at the Museum of Science where he is on the board of directors in Boston. He would come to the lab for lunch on fridays and say he just had a little hike... turned out he hiked Mt Washington! He was a spry old guy and kept us all laughing!

Arne Croell , Aug 12, 2002; 09:14 a.m.

Some web sites: http://www.comune.bolzano.it/wincity/32A9FF83_it.html (Alpine pictures; Italian web site, also in German)

http://www.photomuseum.org.ge/sella/index_en.htm (Caucasus pictures; From the Georgian (the country, not the state) museum)

http://www.emmet.de/por_sell.htm (A few Karakorum pictures)

http://images.amazon.com/images/P/0893818089.01.LZZZZZZZ.jpg (the book cover page at Amazon, showing Siniolchun in the Himalayas)

Struan Gray , Aug 12, 2002; 10:10 a.m.

When I was researching my own trip to the Karakorum at the library of the Royal Geographical Society in London, my friend left me browsing through old expedition reports and maps in the library to 'just pop upstairs' and ask the people in the Expedition Advisory Centre a question. When he hadn't returned after nearly forty minutes I went looking for him, finding him half way up the staircase in front of a huge Sella print of the Mustagh Tower and the Baltoro Glacier. He hadn't made it any further than that.

I'm not sure books can do Sella's big prints justice. His photographs are much more 'straight' than Adams or even Washburn, and don't have the drama of full zonie masterpieces. The way that print on the staircase pulled you into itself with an overwhelming sense of scale and detail is very hard to reproduce in a book.

On the other hand, if you like mountain landscapes, it's hard to find *any* good images of places like the Ruwenzori or the Caucasus. Even the St. Elias Range tends to get second billing among Alaska photographs. I haven't seen the book myself, but I'll put it on my wish list.

Arne Croell , Aug 12, 2002; 10:50 a.m.


I am aware of one other book on the Caucasus area Sella covered. Its in German, by a photographer named Wolfgang Korall, title is "Swanetien-Abschied von der Zeit" (roughly "Swanetia - farewell to time"), publisher Adam Kraft-Verlag, W├╝rzburg 1991 ISBN 3-8083-2005-2. It is in black and white, but 35mm, not large format and concentrates on the Swaneti people, their customs, and their archaic buildings. Still I consider it a very good book. Although the images are from the eighties, many pictures still look like Sella could have taken them.

Struan Gray , Aug 12, 2002; 11:55 a.m.

Thanks Arne. I speak German - albeit very badly these days - so I'll see how generous the present fairies will be come my birthday. I have some Russian (and Ukrainian, and Armenian..) climbing friends and aquaintances who have wonderful slides of that area, but I don't know of much that has been published. The RGS expedition report collection is a fantastic primary resource, but not really suitable for fireside drooling :-)

Hans Berkhout , Aug 12, 2002; 08:54 p.m.

I enjoyed a show of his work about 1.5 years ago in the Whyte Museum of the Can. Rockies. Very impressive. I wondered how he managed to achieve his beautiful skies with clouds, assuming that he used non-panchromatic film, any idea?

Pete Caluori , Aug 12, 2002; 11:12 p.m.


Glad to see others appreciate Sella's work. The book is a bargain, the image wonderful and considering when, where and how they were taken - inspirational!

Regards, Pete

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