Date of birth: 07-10-1828
Place of birth: Pralungo
Related archive: BESSO, VITTORIO
Son of Bartolomeo and Anna Zerbino, at the age of 13 Vittorio attended the painting school of Grenoble following in the footsteps of his maternal grandfather, Matteo Zerbino of Callabiana, pupil and collaborator of Bernardino Galliari, the famous set designer of Andorno.
With his brother Vincenzo, professor at the Albertina Academy, he collected drawings of great artists of the period, acquiring over two thousand works including both originals and reproductions, which are also mentioned in the two catalogues of photographs published by Vittorio Besso in 1881 and in 1893. The photographic reproductions of these drawings, as well as his other work, earned him his first public recognition and an opportunity to participate in the biggest art exhibitions of the time.
From the Fifties onwards the two brothers often went to France in order to buy photographic equipment, reconnoitre the professional ateliers and learn the basics of photography.
In 1859 Vittorio, on the advice of Giuseppe Venanzio Sella, author of Plico del fotografo, opened the first photographic studio in Biella, in the Riva district, at 88 Via Umberto; here Besso produced dozens of portraits, He also began to explore the surrounding areas and record them photographically: first the Biellese mountains, then those of the Canavese and the Aosta Valley.
He devoted entire reportages to the castles of the Aosta Valley, to the King’s hunting grounds and the Valsesia, and was especially interested in works of technical innovation, such as mines, modern extraction methods, railways, viaducts, bridges and stations; thanks to this work documenting the progress of the times, Besso was honoured in 1880 to receive the King’s permission to adorn his studio with the royal coat of arms.
He also specialised in group portraits, such as the one he produced in 1863 for the Society of Wool Weavers in the Biella area, portraying a good 620 people with one click of his camera. The following year, as a result of this success, Quintino suggested he portrayed the participants at the congress of the Italian Society of Natural Sciences which was held in Biella.
In 1868 the first album was published with reproductions of drawings produced by different Italian authors; the volume, kept in the Municipal Library of Biella, bears on the cover the inscription: “Album artistico ossia raccolta di 326 disegni autografi di valenti artisti italiani fra gli autori che primeggiano in quest’opera sono: Galliari, Vacca, Sevesi, Barelli, Salvator Rosa, Apiani, Perego, Morgari, Bibbiena, Vinea, Cineroli, Tiepoli, Rapus, Harthman, ecc. Questi autografi vennero raccolti e fotografati per cura del fotografo Besso Vittorio da Biella. Questa raccolta verrà alla luce per mezzo di una associazione al prezzo di centesimi 60 cadun Esemplare, per gli abbonati. Le tavole separate centesimi 80 caduna. Album primo, Biella 1868”. (Artistic album, or collection of 326 drawings autographed by talented Italian artists including Galliari, Vacca, Sevesi, Barelli, Salvator Rosa, Apiani, Perego, Morgari, Bibbiena, Vinea, Cineroli, Tiepoli, Rapus, Harthman etc.. These drawings were collected and photographed by photographer Besso Vittorio of Biella. The collection will be available through an association at the price of 60 cents for each examplar for subscribers. The separate plates 80 cents each. Album One, Biella 1868)
From the early Eighteen Sixties he took part in several national and international exhibitions. In 1873 at the Universal Exhibition of Vienna Besso presented a collection of more than a thousand reproductions of bas reliefs and drawings of well-known artists which not only won a prize on that occasion but also at the Exhibition of Paris in 1878, and won him an honorary diploma from the Central College of Wüttenberg.
In 1875 he produced a panorama of Biella in eight views seen from the park of San Gerolamo and in 1879 he lent his dark room frame to Vittorio Sella for the first reproduction of Mount Mars.
In the Eighteen Eighties, Besso produced two important reportages about Sardinia, one on the subject of the mining industrialisation of the Iglesiente, the other on the construction of the 600 kilometres of the Secondary Sardinian Railways.
In 1881 he published his first photographic catalogue, followed by another in 1893, entirely updated with the addition of the reproductions made in Sardinia, where the landscapes also show engineering works such as railways, bridges and tunnels, intended to demonstrate the progress which the Savoy Kingdom had brought to a large part of Italy.
After his death in 1895, his son Umberto took over the management of the studio and transferred the business to Imperia, while in Biella his pupil Simone Rossetti opened a studio at 59 Via Umberto, giving birth to a new dynasty of photographers, who remained active in Biella and in the Biellese for over a century.