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Item #: BK1406-1049p
SUMMIT: VITTORIO SELLA: MOUNTAINEER AND PHOTOGRAPHER THE YEARS 1879-1909 Vittorio Sella 1999 1st ed Large format Hardcover DJ Fine-New Multiple copies available
By Sella, Vittorio, Essay by Ansel Adams, David Brower, Greg Child
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Detailed Product Description
USA, 1999, 1st edition. 128 pp, 125 duotone photos, panoramas. Large-format hardcover with dust jacket.  Fine.

Vittorio Sella is the greatest mountain photographer ever. This is the definitive collection of Sella photos. Using images from K2 and the Karakoram, Mount St Elias, the Ruwenzori, Caucasus, Kangchenjunga and the Alps, this book belongs in the library of all mountaineers. 

Due to the 4 pound weight of this book, additional postage will be requested for US Media Mail ($2 more) and Priority Mail, Canada and International Airmail.

This book is a careful reproduction of some of the best black-and-white landscape photography ever collected of the work of Vittorio Sella. A courageous photographer and mountaineer, Sella climbed peaks on three continents to record stunning views at the top of the world; this book should make us grateful that he hauled heavy photography equipment on those ascents. The strength of this volume is its collection of images: tucked and rolling glaciers, unyielding mountains that seem to run in an infinite sequence from close to distant, and deep gaps full of the treachery of silence.

The absolute clarity of the portraits demonstrates this climber's mastery of his medium. The images here look bold and contemporary: pure gatherings of white (snow), black (jagged peaks and ledges blocking sun), and various greys (clouds, shadows, and crevices). Ansel Adams's preface which he wrote as an appreciation in 1939. Reverent essays by other Sella admirers who know enough to stand aside while the photographs earn their own silent appreciation.

Weighted with heavy, nineteenth-century camera equipment, Vittorio Sella climbed some of the world's most mysterious, perilous peaks and photographed them, many for the first time. His strikingly elegant photographs, which in Ansel Adams's words, 'revealed [the mountains] in all their sheer majesty,' offer groundbreaking scientific and documentary information as well. Climbers today still use Sella's pictures to map out routes and to better comprehend their challenges and the magnificence to come.

Through Sella's images, we can witness the grandeur of the world's greatest peaks; the Russian Caucasus, the Saint Elias Range in Alaska, Mount Ruwenzori in Africa, the Kanchenjunga in the Himalayas. His photographic documentation of these peaks had no precedents and has few, if any, equals.

Includes essays by Ansel Adams, David Brower, Greg Child, etc.

Here is an incredible review from the Amazon.com website:

This is one of the key volumes in any collection of mountain photography books. Sella was one of the earliest and most accomplished practitioners of this difficult discipline and this Aperture monograph does full justice to the importance and beauty of his work. The book, measuring approximately 28x31 cm, has been handsomely and meticulously produced. The quality of the photo reproductions is very good, capturing the spirit of the originals. There is a very pleasing layout, with pictures alternatingly presented on white and grey backgrounds. Formats vary, with about 25 photos spilling over onto a second page. There are two large foldout panoramas: one taken from the summit of the Elbrus and the other one representing the Baltoro area in the Karakoram. As far as I can tell, the 3:4 aspect ratio of the original 30x40 and 18x24 plates has been respected.

The documentary value of Sella's images is undisputed. But Sella's images surely transcend the boundaries of a purely documentary kind of photography. Take one of the earliest images shown in the book, taken on the Aletsch Glacier in the Bernese Alps in 1884 (Sella was 25 then). It is not easy to reconstruct the standpoint of the photographer, but I suspect that he is looking towards the Ltschenlcke, with the the onset of the Sattelhorn ridge barely visible to the left and a sizable chunk of the Mittaghorn-Gletscherhorn chain in full view on the right hand side of the pass. It must be early morning as the light is slanting from the East, softened by a disperse cloud cover above the Mittaghorn.

The picture is titled `Crevasse on the Aletsch Glacier, Alps, July 18, 1884', but for me the real protagonist is the mysterious human figure nearly in the centre of the picture. It is the silhouet of a mountaineer in period attire, including the typical Alpenhut. He has left ropes, ice axe and other climbing gear behind and is studying a document. We can presume it is a map, although from the shape and size of the document and the climber's posture, we could deduce it is a kind of letter he is studying. The incongruity between the majestic surroundings, bathed in ethereal light, and the hard-etched casualness of the human figure remind us of the surrealists who would be experimenting with strange juxtapositions only a few decades later.

A later example of a fascinating image is the picture on page 111, showing the Duke of Abruzzi and guides climbing the Chogolisa icefall in the Karakoram range. The diffuse colours, the halos around some of the ice towers and the brushed effect in the gloomy sky place the picture in the Pictorialist tradition ( la early Stieglitz or Steichen). Again, there is an oddity which makes the attentive observer pause. The first climber has taken a position on a small shoulder and is overlooking the terrain they have to tackle next.

Clearly, he is not belaying the second man (presumably the Duke) who, assisted by another guide, is attacking an ice bulge under an ice cave. Curiously the lead climber has left his ice axe behind on a little ledge in front of this ice cave lower down. It is difficult to say why in that particular situation anyone would feel tempted to leave behind this essential piece of climbing apparel. As in the Aletschgletscher picture, there is a detail in this picture, a slight twist of perspective, which reveals a deeper layer beyond the purely documentary.

The essays accompanying the pictures vary somewhat in quality. Individual chapters are ordered chronologically, reflecting Sella's progress as he worked through his major campaigns in the Alps, Caucasus, Yukon, Ruwenzori, Sikkim and Karakoram. Paul Kallmes' short introductory essays to the chapters are informative and well written, if only a little short. Wendy Watson's concluding essay 'Picturing the Sublime' is a disappointment.

Although it contains a lot of interesting biographical material, Watson fails to penetrate to the heart of what makes Sella's photography truly great. Compare this to Ansel Adam's all too brief but very insightful introductory essay where the artist and master practitioner reveals something of what it takes to create the particular spatial depth in mountain photographs. Whilst Watson occasionally tends to hyperbole, Adams' language is movingly poetic, but remains focused and precise.

The book ends with a notes section, a bibliography and a very good timeline. This is worth studying in detail as it includes some startling anecdotes. For instance, in December 1892 Sella traveled by train from Dover to London. During the journey he leaned too far out of the window, thereby striking his head on the tunnel wall. After spending two weeks in coma, he fully recovered from his skull fracture.

We also have to wait until the very final pages of the book to see two pictures of the man himself, both taken at very old age. One wonders how he looked like when as a young man of 25 he wandered through the Alps with his 30x40 camera.

Vittorio Sella [1859 - 1943]

He was the Italian alpinist and photographer who accompanied the 1906 Abruzzi Rwenzori expedition and who was perhaps the greatest of all alpine photographers. It was Sella who first recorded the landscape, plants and people of the Rwenzori in extensive and intimate detail, and to whom we refer for clarity of the historical record and pure artistic beauty. It is particularly interesting to note how far the glaciers of the Rwenzori have receded since these photographs were taken, nearly 90 years ago.

Vittorio Sella was born in Biella, Italy, to father who was a successful textile industrialist and scientist ad who, in 1856, had been the first Italian to write a treatise on photography. Vittorio owed his interest in the mountains to his uncle, Quintino, founder of the Alpine Club of Italy. As a young man, Vittorio had worked as a chemist in his father's textile factory, but it was his passion for taking beautiful panoramic photographs of the mountains which made him famous. From 1880 to 1893 he compiled a detailed portfolio of the Alps, combining his photography with impressive alpinism, such as the first winter traverse of the Matterhorn in 1882.
 
He made three expeditions to the Caucasus, in 1889, 1890 and 1896, for which his photography received awards from Britain's Royal Geographical Society. In 1899 he accompanied his friend the alpinist D. W. Freshfield on a difficult exploration of Kanchenjunga in Sikkim. The Duke of Abruzzi greatly admired Sella's work and invited him to be the official photographer for the expeditions in 1897 to Mount St Elias in Alaska, in 1909 to the Karakoram. The highest summit on Mount Luigi di Savoia in the Rwenzori was named Sella Peak in his honour.

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