The Grolier Club exhibits photographs from the Collection of Dr. Roger Härtl

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The Grolier Club exhibits photographs from the Collection of Dr. Roger Härtl
Wilfred Thesiger, Salim bin Kabina in the Empty Quarter, January 12–18, 1948. Film negative, 35mm. Pitt Rivers Museum, Oxford University, Courtesy of The Grolier Club.

NEW YORK, NY.- In the late nineteenth to mid-twentieth century, two explorers—mountaineer and photographer Vittorio Sella and desert denizen and author Wilfred Thesiger—matched unparalleled energy in geographic exploration with mastery in photography and writing, creating remarkable documents of some of the world’s most extreme terrain. Examining their work side by side, for the first time, this exhibition tells the story of two men working at a pivotal historical moment, when true geographic exploration was coming to an end and photography as a discipline was beginning to take shape.

Vittorio Sella (1859–1943), born in northern Italy, was the leading large-format, mountaineering photographer at the turn of the twentieth century, renowned for his spectacular high-altitude photographs of glaciers, peaks and valleys.

Sir Wilfred Thesiger (born June 3, 1910, Addis Ababa, Ethiopia—died August 24, 2003, London, England) was a British author and explorer. A prolific writer, he immersed himself in the societies of the Bedouins of the Arabian Peninsula and the Marsh Arabs of southern Iraq, Vittorio Sella and Wilfred Thesiger: Photographs at the Edge from the Collection of recording the experience in two well-known volumes. His photographs and written descriptions of the nature and people he encountered in the so-called Empty Quarter, a vast portion of the Arabian Desert, are vibrant accounts of an environment and culture threatened by Western influence.

Drawing from the extensive collections of Dr. Roger Härtl, this exhibition reveals the intrepid spirit and documentary skill of two explorers who worked under the most difficult circumstances. Rare books, photographs, maps, and ephemera reveal the extraordinary artistry with which they documented the farthest reaches of the earth.

Collector’s Statement

As a teenager in Germany, I dreamt of becoming a journalist and explorer. My family roots are in the Dolomites, Bavaria, and Bohemia, and since my early childhood I have found great joy in climbing and skiing in the Alps. My life as a neurosurgeon opened up the world and allowed me to travel and explore places near and far. Today, I complement my curiosity for the unknown through collecting.

Over the past decade, I have acquired original books and photographs related to great explorers of the nineteenth and twentieth centuries. I am particularly interested in the work of individuals who approached geographic exploration as artists. As photographer Paolo Pellegrin has written, “art allows for the documentation of the alien with truth rather than conquest.” The works of mountaineer and photographer Vittorio Sella (1859–1943) and desert traveler and author Wilfred Thesiger (1910–2003) are central to my collection.

Sella and Thesiger wandered the world at the crossroads of the age of exploration and the development of modern photographic techniques. The places they ventured—including the high mountains of the Karakoram and the vast deserts of the Arabian Peninsula—were largely unexplored regions of dazzling beauty and inhospitable challenge. This exhibition documents the courageous achievements of these two men, both great artists and documenters in their own right.

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