Walter Bonatti, Doi Malingri and Folco Quilici were my myths and heroes when I was a boy.
The last two I was lucky enough to know working with them as a photographer and documentarist. Not Bonatti. I’ve never seen him in person. But it’s as if I did, since I followed all his moves. In the sixties and seventies I was anxiously waiting for his reportages on the Epoca magazine to look at his photographs from the great wild spaces of the world. Walter took me to Patagonia, Namibia, Kilimanjaro, Sumatra, among the icebergs of Antarctica … it would be too long to remember all the natural stretches that he made me know while exploring them almost always in solitude.
Bonatti, before becoming the most famous explorer in Italy, had been a prime mountaineer with adventures such as opening a new route to Gran Capucin when he was only twenty-one years or climbing in six days alone on the pillar of Petit Wood of Mont Blanc.
It was also years of bitterness for him. Like when he was only 24 years old heo attended the Italian expedition on the K2, which summit had already been won in 1954 by Lacedelli and Compagnoni. The expedition was accompanied by veiled and other less veiled accusations about the behavior of young Bonatti, who would not have helped the climbing comrades. Accusations that took a long time for a complete rehabilitation of the mountaineer, fifty-three years later! It was perhaps because of the disappointment that Bonatti abandoned mountaineering in 1964, ehwn he was only 35 years old, to begin his exploration career in large wild environments. Since I’m not a mountaineering fan this career breakthrough did make me happy! He was also fortunate because he became famous as indomitable reporter of the natural world. Which would not have happened if he had continued climbing mountains.
The photographs of the two exhibitions of his prime photographs, at the Carispezia Foundation and Doria Castle in Portovenere, from April 29 to June 18, bring together shots of this second part of Walter Bonatti’s life: the one of the great reportages.
Often the pictures depict Bonatti himself involved in some difficult passage. But it is not narcissism. With his self-timers, often obtained with sophisticated techniques, Bonatti intended to put man in the right perspective with regard to Nature rather than wanting to emphasize his own abilities. These are pictures that have made a whole generation of aspiring explorers dream. Even the beautiful actress Rossana Podestà was struck. So to declare in an interview in 1980 that she would have chosen a man like Bonatti, who did not know in person, to escape on a desert island. Walter, who had just divorced, wrote to her and they decided to meet in Rome. The great explorer, who had not never lost himself while walking 1200 km of wild Africa solo, confused the Ara Coeli, the place of the meeting, with the Altar of the Homeland. Podestà waited for two hours before Bonatti realized the mistake! “What kind of explorer you are that you can not find a person in Rome?” She blinked. Nevertheless, since then they lived together until the death of Bonatti 31 years later, in 2011, at the age of 81.
Not everyone knows that the ashes of the explorer and mountaineer rest in the cemetery of Portovenere where his companion Rossana, who joined him three years later, had a family chapel.
A curious choice for a man who had lived half of his life on mountains peaking walls and the other half crossing wild distances? Well… judge yourself going to visit his tomb in Portovenere and look at the steep cliff above San Pietro and then the sea to where you can watch …
WALTER BONATTI. LARGE SPACES
April 29 – June 18, 2017
Friday, April 28, at 6pm to the Carispezia Foundation
Until June 18:
Monday – Thursday 10.30-13.00 and 15.30-19.30
Friday – Sunday 10.00-19.30
Castle Doria Portovenere
This post is also available in: Italiano (Italian)