Vittorio Sella was born in 1859 in Biella, about 50 miles north-east of Turin in the foothills of the Italian Alps, not far from the peaks of Mont Blanc and Monte Rosa. His father had written the first Italian language treatise on photography in 1856 and his uncle Quintino Sella, a distinguished statesman and keen Alpinist, founded the Italian Alpine Club in 1863.

Having undertaken such feats in the Alps as the first winter ascent of the Matterhorn in 1882 and the first winter traverse of Mont Blanc in 1888, Vittorio set out on the mountaineering and photographic adventures that were to consume him for many years.

His travels took him on expeditions to the Caucasus on three occasions, to the Saint Elias range in Alaska, to Sikkim, Nepal, the Karakoram and Western Himalayas, to the Ruwenzori in Uganda and to Morocco, accompanying illustrious explorers such as Douglas W. Freshfield and the Duke of the Abruzzi, as well as organising trips of his own.

In 1935, at the age of 76, he made his final attempt to climb the Matterhorn, which was abandoned only because of injury to one of his guides.

Like Ruskin, who claimed to have taken the first ever photograph of the Matterhorn, Sella combined an aesthetic appreciation of the grandeur of mountains inherited from the Romantics with the technological developments of the nineteenth century. Ansel Adams felt that, ‘The vastness of the subjects and the purity of Sella’s interpretations move the spectator to a definitely religious awe.’

Frozen in Time consisted of over fifty extraordinary vintage photographs and multi-plate panoramas from the Fondazione Sella in Biella. Together they demonstrated not only Sella’s skills as a mountaineer but also his ability to give a real sense of the immensity and beauty of his subjects.

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Marcello Mastroianni and Jeanne Moreau on the set of La Notte by Michelangelo Antonioni, 1960 © Sergio Strizzi Photography

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Pasquarosa, Vase of Flowers, c. 1916

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