5,000 Photographs Discovered in an Attic Show One Amazing Story
These 5,000 photographs discovered in an attic show one amazing story of a long forgotten village, located in Italian-speaking Switzerland, a territory south of the Alps. These unique photos were taken between 1900 and 1930, and show the story of an isolated valley.
Roberto Donetta took over 5,000 photographs featuring the daily life and the people of his village. Although he can now be considered one of Switzerland’s most talented photographers of the beginning of the past century, he, like most artists of the time, died in solitude and misery in 1932. All of his belongings were auctioned off to pay the photographer‘s debt and during his lifetime, no one took a profound interest in his works.
His life works includes over 5,000 photographs taken over a period of approximately 30 years. Glass plates and original prints were left in the attic of his town’s parish where they were found completely by accident, in a very well-preserved state.
Roberto Donetta’s photographs offer a real insight about village life back then. He was born in a poor family in the Blenio Valley in Ticino, which is one of the poorest regions in Switzerland. Like most of the people from that area, he was forced to leave his country to find a better life. He emigrated to Northern Italy to sell chestnuts on the street and later moved to London where he worked as a seed salesman for a year.
Roberto Donetta got married at the age of 21 and had seven kids. Even today, raising seven children is an almost impossible job, so you can imagine how hard it must have been for the aspiring artist to provide food for his family back then.
The story of how Donetta became one of Switzerland’s most iconic photographer of the early and mid 1900’s begins with one person – Dionigi Sorgesa, a sculptor he met by accident. Dionigi Scorgesa taught him the basics of photography and gave the young Italian ethnic a photo camera. He started making a living as a travelling photographer / see salesman. He managed to find his way back to his native Switzerland, moving to a small valley in Casserio of Corzoneso.
This is where he started documenting the everyday life of his fellow villagers. Life in the village was his muse and he managed to document it in detail. From the villagers’ expressions, to their occupation and favorite activities, everything is revealed in these over 5,000 photographs that show one amazing story.
Roberto Donetta never managed to make photography a profitable activity. He barely had food to last him a day and when he died, he was already in debt to most of the villagers. His wife and seven children left him years before his death and moved to France in order to find a better life for themselves.
People from his village grew fond of Roberto Donetta and when the Commune of Corzoneso auctioned off his belongings to repay his debt, everything was sold, except for his photography collection.
Since nobody was interested in buying these unique photos, they went into the possesion of the Commune of Corzonesco and were rediscovered in the late 1970’s. Roberto Donetta’s circular roundhouse was once the village’s school and it is now the headquarters of the photographer‘s foundation. The photographers of today preserve and cherish Donetta’s work and want to make the artist receive the glory and admiration he never received during his life.
Self-portrait of Roberto Donetta