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Picture-taking salesman Travels in a bygone age in a poor alpine valley

To make a living, Roberto Donetta worked as a travelling photographer and seed salesman. His images captured scenes in the Blenio valley when people lived hand to mouth.

Upon his death in 1932, Donetta left behind almost 5,000 glass plates of daily life in the isolated alpine valley in the southern canton of Ticino.

Donetta saw himself as a self-taught artist who experimented freely and became a master of the medium of photography.

In his early adult life, the photographer ran a small grocery shop, before heading to London - like many of his compatriots from the valley - to work as a waiter. However he returned only 15 months later, sick and exhausted.

He then became a travelling salesman in the valley, hawking vegetable and flower seeds. A little bit later, around 1900, he was introduced to photography by a local sculptor. From then on he was not only a seed merchant, but also the unofficial valley photographer.

An exhibition of 120 of Donetta's photos is now showing at Switzerland's photography foundation in Zurich (Fotostiftung Schweizexternal link) until September 4.

(Text: Fotostiftung Schweiz)