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About the Photography Collection

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The Photography Collection was created in 1980, when images culled from other NYPL departments and branches were brought together to form a new division that now comprises approximately 500,000 photographs by 6,000 photographers. The Photography Collection encompasses the broadest range of the medium, including images made for commercial, industrial, and scientific application as well as images for the press and other print media, the vernacular of amateur snapshot photography and original works intended for exhibition and/or the art market. The collection includes examples of almost every photographic process, from the daguerreotype to digital imagery, and is especially strong in photographically illustrated books, travel and topographical photography, stereoscopic views, and portraiture. Other strengths include works from the first years of photography, American photography from the 1930s and 40s, limited edition portfolios, and works by New York-based photographers working in the 1970s and 80s.

Books and periodicals on general photography have been acquired comprehensively throughout the Library’s history. The department’s reference collection includes more than 20,000 volumes on photographers and the history of photography, exhibition catalogs, annuals, biographical dictionaries, and resource guides. These volumes are accessible primarily through the Art & Architecture Collection. Most of these works are searchable in the Library’s online catalog.

Finding Materials

The primary means of searching the Photography Collection is by photographer’s name. Click here to view a list of over 6,300 photographers whose work is represented in the collection. 

Many of the Photography Collection's images are available online via the NYPL Digital Gallery. These images also can be searched by place, subject, and genre.

Some of the larger collections of photographs as well as works by selective photographers have been cataloged by subject, photographic process, and time period, and are found in the online catalog. Other collections are accessible via albums of reproductions that can be viewed in the Prints and Photographs Study Room (Room 308). Researching photographs can be facilitated by consultation with the staff of the Photography Collection (photography@nypl.org).

Prior to the creation of the Photography Collection in 1980, original photographs were acquired primarily in book or album form; occasionally, individual photographs were selected based on subject matter for existing collections. Many of these photographs remain in the originating collections, including the George Arents Collection, the Division of U.S. History, Local History, and Genealogy, and the Manuscripts and Archives Division. Other photograph collections are found at The Schomberg Center for Research in Black Culture, and The New York Public Library for the Performing Arts.