An Alpine Adventurer And His Mountaintop Darkroom : The Picture Show Vittorio Sella was the master of a super specialized niche. He was an extreme Alpine adventurer during photography's early days.
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An Alpine Adventurer And His Mountaintop Darkroom

If there were a Venn diagram of the meticulous Ansel Adams and the audacious mountaineer George Mallory, the overlap would be a somewhat obscure Italian named Vittorio Sella. Born in 1859, Sella was one of the most brazen Alpinists of his time; he was the first, for example, to do a winter climb of the Matterhorn. But Sella also inherited a fascination with photography; his father had penned the first treatise on photography in Italy. And as the master of a highly specified niche, Sella might now be considered the grandfather of adventure photography. Still, it's easy to take his photographs for granted.

At the time, neither mountaineering nor photographing were easy. In addition to a large-format view camera, Sella was hauling an entire darkroom on his back — chemicals and plates in his personally designed bags and rucksacks. And after seeing his photographs, it's obvious why he went through all the trouble. Sella was one of the few people in the world to witness these sublime landscapes first-hand, and it's no surprise that he wanted to document them.

Today, Sella's photographs are historic documents as much as they are works of art. They show glacial retreat in central Africa, historic climbs and unseen landscapes. Boston's Panopticon Gallery will be paying homage to the photographer with an exhibition starting next month.