"What They Saw: Historical Photobooks by Women" Reading Rooms

In collaboration with 10x10 Photobooks, The New York Public Library's Wallach Division of Art, Prints and Photographs is pleased to host the "What They Saw: Historical Photobooks by Women" Reading Rooms, two spaces to browse and view 200 photobooks from the period 1843–1999, open May 19–21.

A drop-in, hands-on experience will take place in the Center for Research in the Humanities, with rare books accessible for viewing in the Prints & Photographs Study Room. Both reading rooms are free and open to the public, but advanced registration is required to visit Room 308 by emailing photography@nypl.org with subject heading “What They Saw.”

Reading Rooms: Thursday, May 19–Saturday, May 21
Programs through Monday, May 30



Explore Events in This Series:


Guided Tours of the Rare Books in "What They Saw"

Prints & Photographs Study Room / Room 308 (3rd floor)
Thursday, May 19 at 12 PM
Friday, May 20 at 12 PM
Advance registration required

Tour and learn about the rare books in the "What They Saw" Reading Rooms with Elizabeth Cronin, the Robert B. Menschel Curator of Photography at NYPL.


Work/Cited: Rewriting Photobook History to Include Women

Wednesday, May 11 at 1 PM
Register for this virtual event

In this episode of Work/Cited, The New York Public Library’s series that showcases scholarship supported by the Library’s rich collections, Wallach Division Assistant Curator Elizabeth Cronin and Olga Yatskevich and Russet Lederman, co-editors of What They Saw: Historical Photobooks by Women, 1843–1999, will discuss women's involvement in the emergence and development of the photographic book—sharing both well-known books as well as many forgotten examples. 


"What They Saw" in Bryant Park

May 9–30

On the cafe tables in Bryant Park on the north front porch of The New York Public Library, "What They Saw" will showcase images of six historical photobooks by women. Enjoy a warm sunny day in the park while learning about photobooks by women. The use of the park café tables is courtesy of the Bryant Park Corporation.


Spotlight Talks

Center for Research in the Humanities (2nd floor)
Thursday, May 19; Friday, May 20; and Saturday, May 21 at 11:30 AM, 1 PM, 2:30 PM, and 4 PM

Throughout the run of the "What They Saw" Reading Rooms, experts will present short 15-minute talks on individual photobooks on view.

These talks are free and do not require any advance registration—just drop in.

Thursday, May 19

  • 11:30 AM: Kelsey Sucena on Putting Myself in the Picture: A Political, Personal and Photographic Autobiography (1986)
  • 1 PM: Chantal Lee on Rosemarie Clausen, Samuel Beckett Inszeniert das "Endspiel" (Samuel Beckett Stages “Endgame”) (1969)
  • 2:30 PM: Emily Walz on Margaret Bourke-White, You Have Seen Their Faces (1937)
  • 4 PM: Deirdre Donohue on Dare Wright, The Lonely Doll (1957) 

Friday, May 20 

  • 11:30 AM: Dolly Meieran on Susan Meiselas, Kurdistan: In the Shadow of History (1997)
  • 1 PM: Carole Naggar on Hannah Hoch, Sammelalbum (Album, 1933)
  • 2:30 PM: Karen Sklar on Marianne Wex, ‘Let's Take Back Our Space’: “Female” and “Male” Body Language as a Result of Patriarchal Structures (1979)
  • 4 PM: Elizabeth Cronin on Toni Frissell, A Children's Garden of Verses (1944)

Saturday, May 21 

  • 11:30 AM: Miguel Rosales on Paz Errázuriz, Amalia (1973, reprint 2013)
  • 1 PM: Jesse Dritz on Carrie Mae Weems, In these Islands: South Carolina • Georgia (1995)
  • 2:30 pm: Anna Jacobson on C. Jane Gover, The Positive Image: Women Photographers in Turn-of-the-Century America (1988)
  • 4 PM: Olga Yatskevich on Alicia D'Amico & Sara Facio, Buenos Aires, Buenos Aires (1968)



10x10 Photobooks and The Miriam & Ira D. Wallach Division of Art, Prints and Photographs have organized "What They Saw"—a hands-on reading room, a rare book reading room, an associated award-winning publication and a series of public events—to explore the distinctive qualities of photobooks created by women photographers. 

The "What They Saw" Reading Rooms are supported by an anonymous donor, Evan Mirapaul, Stuart Richardson and Grace Jones Richardson Trust. 

For more information: art@nypl.org or info@10x10photobooks.org.

More on What They Saw: Historical Photobooks by Women, 1843-1999

What They Saw, the latest project in the nonprofit 10x10 Photobooks' ongoing series of reading rooms and publications on photobooks by marginalized communities, presents a global range of 200 photobooks by female photographers from 1843 to 1999. With the first photographically illustrated book self-published by British botanist Anna Atkins in 1843, women have consistently contributed to the rich history of photobooks. However, their contributions have not always been recognized. The "What They Saw" Reading Rooms showcase this history and share both historically significant and under-appreciated photobooks by women. Presenting a diverse geographic and ethnic selection, the photobooks included in the two reading room spaces interpret the concept of the photographically illustrated book in the broadest sense possible: classic bound books, portfolios, personal albums, unpublished books, zines and scrapbooks. Some of the books documented are well-known publications such as Anna Atkins' Photographs of British Algae: Cyanotype Impressions (1843–53), Germaine Krull's Métal (1928) and Diane Arbus: An Aperture Monograph (1972), while other books may be relatively unknown, such as Varvara Stepanova's Groznyi smekh. Okna Rosta (1932), Eslanda Cardozo Goode Robeson’s African Journey (1945), Fina Gómez Revenga’s Fotografías de Fina Gómez Revenga (1954) and Ruiko Yoshida’s Harlem: Black Angels (1974). The glaring gaps and omissions in current photobook history are apparent through this overview, particularly the lack of access, support, and funding for photobooks by non-Western women and women of color.

More on The Miriam & Ira D. Wallach Division of Art, Prints and Photography

Established in 1987 thanks to a gift from the Wallach family, The Miriam and Ira D. Wallach Division of Art, Prints and Photographs unites what had formerly been three separate departments under a single banner. Divisional holdings comprise works of art as well as reference materials on painting, sculpture, drawing, printmaking, photography and the history of architecture from prehistoric times to the present. The quality, depth and scope of these holdings have earned the Wallach Division an international reputation among a broad variety of scholars and lovers of art.

More on 10x10 Photobooks

10x10 Photobooks is a nonprofit 501(c)3 organization based in New York City with the mission to foster engagement with the global photobook community through an appreciation, dissemination, and understanding of photobooks. Founded in 2012, 10x10 offers an ongoing multi-platform series of public photobook events, including reading rooms, salons, publications, and partnerships with arts organizations and institutions.