The Metropolitan began collecting photographs in 1928, when Alfred Stieglitz, a passionate advocate of photography as a fine art, made the first of several important gifts to the Museum. In addition to superb examples of his own photography, his gifts comprise the best collection anywhere of works by the Photo-Secession, the circle of Pictorialist photographers shown at his influential gallery. The Stieglitz Collection is especially rich in large master prints by Edward Steichen; of special note are three large, unique prints of the Flatiron building, each a slightly different hue, evoking a different moment of twilight in the city. Also featured in the Stieglitz Collection are F. Holland Day, Adolph de Meyer, Gertrude Käsebier, Paul Strand, and Clarence White.
The Museum's photography holdings include several other important collections. The Ford Motor Company Collection, five hundred works collected by John C. Waddell and donated to the Museum in 1987 as a gift of the Ford Motor Company and Mr. Waddell, represents avant-garde European and American photography between the World Wars, including major works by Berenice Abbott, Brassaï, Walker Evans, André Kertész, László Moholy-Nagy, and Man Ray. The Rubel Collection, acquired in 1997, features superb examples of British photography from the first three decades of the medium's history.
The Metropolitan's representation of the first century of photography was further enriched by the 2005 acquisition of the Gilman Paper Company Collection, widely regarded as the world's finest collection of photographs in private hands. The Gilman Collection consists of more than 8,500 photographs, including exceptionally rich holdings in early French, British, and American photography, as well as masterpieces from the turn-of-the-century and modernist periods.
The postwar years are represented by important American photographers such as Harry Callahan, Robert Frank, William Klein, and Garry Winogrand. The Museum's collection is especially strong in representing the varied paths of photography since 1960: its role in conceptual art, earth art, and body art, as seen in works by Douglas Huebler, Robert Smithson, and Charles Ray; the "Dusseldorf School," featuring works by Bernd and Hilla Becher and their students Thomas Struth, Thomas Ruff, and Andreas Gursky; the "Pictures Generation," including Cindy Sherman and Richard Prince; and other important contemporary artists who use photography, such as Rineke Dijkstra, Adam Fuss, Felix Gonzalez-Torres, Rodney Graham, Sigmar Polke, and Jeff Wall.
The Walker Evans Archive
The personal archive of Walker Evans, acquired in 1994, traces the development of this American master of the documentary style, and provides scholars and the general public with a unique opportunity to study the complete creative output of this seminal artist. The archive contains nearly forty thousand negatives and transparencies as well as Evans's boyhood snapshots, short stories, correspondence, library, postcard collection, and color Polaroids made during the last year of his life.
In 2001, the department acquired the Metropolitan's first work of video art—Ann Hamilton's a,b,c (1994/99)—and has since gone on to represent significant developments in film, video, and new media by artists including Darren Almond, Omer Fast, David Hammons, Jonathan Horowitz, and Sharon Lockhart.
In 2007 the Metropolitan announced the gift and promised gift of the complete archive of Diane Arbus, including hundreds of the artist's early photographs; negatives and contact prints of 6,500 rolls of film; and her photography collection, library, and personal papers. Simultaneous with this acquisition, the Museum purchased twenty of Arbus's most iconic photographs.
Also in 2007, the Museum inaugurated the Joyce and Robert Menschel Hall for Modern Photography, the Metropolitan's first gallery designed specifically for the display of photographs created since 1960. With installations that change every eight months, Menschel Hall allows the department to show its contemporary holdings within the broader context of photographic traditions on view in the adjacent Robert Wood Johnson, Jr. Gallery and in the nearby Howard Gilman Gallery and the Galleries for Drawings, Prints, and Photographs (Gallery 691, Gallery 692, and Gallery 693).