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November 13, 2016

Humorous and Amazing Photography by Roberto Donetta: Photographer and Seed Salesman From Bleniotal

Roberto Donetta (1865-1932) from the Blenio Valley in northern Ticino, is one of Swiss photography’s great outsiders. He discovered photography, thanks to the sculptor Dionigi Sorgesa, who in addition to teaching him the basics, gave him a camera.

He managed to make a living as a traveling photographer and seed salesman, and upon his death left almost 5,000 glass plates which were preserved merely by chance. Over a period of 30 years and in an era of great change, Donetta became a unique chronicler who at the same time saw himself as an artist who experimented freely and knew how to master his medium. His pictures are penetrating and humorous, cheerful and deadly serious, children, families, wedding couples, professional people, the harsh everyday-life of women and men, or of the photographer himself. These capture the archaic life of his compatriots in the Valle di Blenio, which at the time was totally isolated, and the gradual advent of modernism in a precise and sensitive way.

Donetta’s life was marked by severe economic problems which lead him to depend on public (communal) assistance. On his death the Commune of Corzoneso auctioned off the few belongings previously owned by the photographer in order, in part, to retrieve the money spent for his maintenance. Whereas his household goods did find buyers his photographic plates, on the other hand, were of interest to no one, so the Commune of became the owner of the material.

For more than 30 years the plates had been forgotten in a bam, which contributed, possibly, towards their ultimate preservation. The Roberto Donetta Archives contain more than 5.000 plates and about 500 prints and are housed in the Casa Comunale of Corzoneso, which is responsible for the supervision and conservation of a considerable quantity of archive material of major interest for research in both the photographic and historical fields.

Female workers in front of the chocolate factory Cima Norma, Dangio-Torre

Family portrait, Bleniotal

In Sonntagsgewand: men in the Torre village come together for bowling

Basket maker, Bleniotal

Family portrait, Bleniotal

Group portrait, Bleniotal

Group of musicians in front of a building, Bleniotal

Group of men, Bleniotal

Three girls in the break from work in the fields under a tree


Humoristic scene, Bleniotal

Four children in leaves, Bleniotal

A chef in Bleniotal

Boy and girl

Children with toys, Bleniotal

Roberto and Linda Donetta with their children Brigida and Saulle, 1905-1910

A wedding couple staged in front of a cloth

Portrait of a Boy, Bleniotal

Killing of a pig, Bleniotal

Family portrait, Bleniotal

Portrait of a woman

Portrait of a man

Portrait of Cesarina Andreazzi Lazzari, Bleniotal

Self-portrait of Roberto Donetta with hat and a photo album in hand, in front of a wall, Bleniotal

(Images © Fondazione Archivio Fotografico Roberto Donetta, Corzoneso)


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