100 Years of Mountain Photography – from Vittorio Sella and Bradford Washburn

Exhibition Dates: September 19, 2013 – December 20, 2013

100 Years of Mountain Photography – from Vittorio Sella and Bradford Washburn was the second in a series of exhibitions following in the wake of Arctic Visions: Away then Floats the Ice-Island.  Vittorio Sella (1859-1943) grew up in the shadow of the Italian Alps. He was a young boy at the time William Bradford (1823-1892) was ascending to become the premier artist of the Polar Regions, and a young man when Bradford’s sumptuous volume, The Arctic Regions: Illustrated with Photographs Taken on an Art Expedition (1873), with its 141 photographs, was first published.

William Bradford’s expeditions were of the sea, while Sella’s, and later Bradford Washburn’s (1910-2007) were of mountains and sky.  Each in their own way sought to represent the sublime, encountering adventure and danger as they pushed to earth’s outer limits. Their works connect visually. Scale is expanded, sometimes beyond comprehension, and primeval elements held within, glaciers, ice and rock, are common to all.

Sella Panorama

Group of Siniolchun / Siniolchun, Kangchenjunga / Kanchinjinga (8597m)
surrounded by clouds  after heavy snowfall, September-October 1899.
© Fondazione Sella, courtesy Decaneas Archive, Revere, MA

Sella and Washburn, like all mountaineers, considered reaching distant summits and returning safely as a goal of their high altitude ambitions. But like William Bradford before them, their successes were also measured by the production of their otherworldly visual representations.  Sella’s photographs were for the most part made using a heavy 40 lb. camera and tripod, exposing large glass plates weighing almost 2 lbs. each. No easy task. Bradford Washburn’s work was accomplished inside an airplane while flying in below-zero temperatures 20,000 feet above the surface of the Earth. He removed the side door, balancing pre­cariously in the opening, while anchored by a 75-pound camera. His innovative techniques were spectacular and bold; the resulting black and white pictures breathtaking in their simplic­ity and elegance.

Washburn’s career as an aerial landscape photographer spanned six decades. Together with his wife Barbara, who in 1947 was the first woman to reach the summit of Mt. McKinley, was hon­ored in 1988 with the Centennial Medal of the National Geographic Society, under whose auspices he conducted numerous geographical explorations. He was responsible for definitive maps of Mt. McKinley, the Grand Canyon, Mount Everest, and New Hampshire’s Presidential Range. When not in the field, Washburn served for over 40 years as the found­ing director of the Museum of Science in Boston, Massachusetts.

©Bradford Washburn, courtesy Decaneas Archive, Revere, MA

© Bradford Washburn, courtesy Decaneas Archive, Revere, MA

Top Banner Right: Detail of Panorama of Baltoro Glacier with Mitre Peak, Mustagh Tower and K2 in the background, 1909. © Fondazione Sella, courtesy Decaneas Archive, Revere, MA. Top Banner Left: Detail © Bradford Washburn, courtesy Decaneas Archive, Revere, MA.