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Photography and engineering Straddling two centuries in the Blenio Valley

Ferdinando Gianella was a politician and an engineer who took photos for fun. He used his art above all in the service of his work, documenting the great changes underway in the Italian-speaking canton of Ticino and in particular Blenio Valley. 

The Roberto Donetta photo archive is paying tribute to this pioneer in a show exhibiting about 30 of Gianella’s works, shot in the Valle del Sole (Sun Valley) – the nickname given to the Blenio Valley – between 1890 and 1932. 

Born in 1837 in Leontica, Gianella began a brilliant career taking on a series of public works projects. Active politically for the conservatives, he was elected to the cantonal government in 1884 and for seven years headed the department of public works. In this capacity, he spearheaded the reclamation of the Magadino flood plain and the realignment of the courses of the Ticino and Maggia rivers. 

Devastated by the coup by the liberals in 1890 to overthrow the conservative government, he returned to his profession and took part in the planning of the railway lines into the valleys of Blenio and Maggia. Gianella died in 1917. 

The Roberto Donetta archive states that Gianella’s photographs not only reveal an eye for documenting or celebrating change, but they also had a technical quality that aided him in his work as an engineer. 

(Pictures: Canton Ticino archive, Gianella family fund. Text: Daniele Mariani,

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