The collection of early photographs (approximately 1000, of which 79 are photographic plates) is worthy of note in many aspects. To begin with, it is not only the oldest collection of photographs in Ticino but the first to have become a possession of the Swiss Confederation when it was accepted as part of the Vela bequest in 1896. The collection was begun by Vincenzo Vela and enlarged by his son Spartaco, who took several pictures himself. That a photographic collection owned by a 19th c. sculptor has survived unaltered to the present day is unusual, a fact that allows the relationship between photography and the work of art as a concept to be studied.
There are two facets to the value of the collection: on one hand they are photographs closely linked to the genesis of a sculptural or pictorial work of art, and therefore they were used by the artists as sources of inspiration and for purposes of comparison; on the other hand, they are of absolute interest to the history of photography.
The collection also includes the photographic "sketches" taken by Vincenzo Vela to present his projects to his clients, and photographs that officially document his works once they were erected in situ. This was a method Vela practised deliberately to be able to include in his house-museum those marble and bronze monuments that had been consigned to his clients or the public space. Also interesting are the photographs that illustrate how Vincenzo Vela's private museum was originally laid out.