Roberto Donetta was born in 1865 in Biasca and died in 1932 in Cassario, in the Swiss canton of Ticino. A travelling seed seller, and registered as a farmer in the official registers of marriages in 1886, Roberto Donetta was a man of imposing stature with an eccentric but cheerful nature, as evidenced by the various notes and reflections found in hi personal almanacs. These are now held in the Casa Rotonda, the photographer’s last home, located in Cassario.
At the turn of the twentieth century, following his meeting with the sculptor Dionigi Sorgesa who rented him a camera, Donetta began to practice photography in the Blenio Valley, an alpine valley in the canton of Ticino. At the time the region was experiencing a strong rural exodus and the population was gradually turning away from agriculture. Donetta was firmly rooted in this community of low-income villagers. These people would also become his main clientele–even if he practiced photography not for commercial reasons, but for himself. His passion has left a legacy in the form of many glass plates. Very few are dated, others have been destroyed or probably lost. Nonetheless, some five thousand glass-plate negatives were found by Corzoneso resident Mariarosa Bozzini in the 1980s and today are kept at the Casa Rotonda. It wasn’t until 1993 that these photographs were developed for the first time since the death of Donetta, by Alberto Flammer. The prints are today housed at the Casa Rotonda and at Museo d’Arte della Svizzera Italiana (MASI) in Lugano.