Top 5 Museums with Impressive Photography Collections

Once simply considered a method to commemorate events and to replace the time-consuming process of painting moments in time, photography has become a diverse form of art, worthy of collection.  While many museums have collections, either representing local or noteworthy artists, or featuring subjects important to the institution, there are those museums who place distinction on photography, or are even dedicated solely to this type of art. Here are some of the most impressive photography collections in the world:

Museum of Modern Art New York

Synonymous with photography, Museum of Modern Art New York (MoMA) has been crucial to the development of photography. Leaders at MoMA understood, at an early point in its development, the importance of photography and the value of preservation, and began assembling works during the 1930’s. An entire department was established in 1940, which has blossomed into one of the world’s largest and most visited collections. In fact, MoMa’s dedication to photography legitimized, to some extent, the art form as just that…art…in the early years when it simply didn’t receive respect by the art world.

In recent years, the challenge to curate photography in museums grows with consumer demand for images; the explosion of everyday people as digital photographers (and daresay self-taught photographers) forces museums to deal with vast numbers of pictures taken around the world.  In response, MoMa has access to an equally-impressive assortment of photographers (young and old) and photographs to add to its revolving exhibitions.

International Center of Photography

This collection was established in 1966 as the International Fund for Concerned Photography by photographer Robert Capa’s brother, who was concerned that humanitarian photography (which Cornell Capa dubbed “concerned photography” to describe pictures taken by photographers wishing to share humanitarian stories of war, politics, and other social issues via photographs) would not be preserved for public attention and education. In 1974 the program was created as the International Center of Photography, with exhibitions beginning in November the same year. It now contains more than 100,000 works.


The ICP School, inaugurated in 1977, provides education through part- and full-time programs, as well as workshops and community outreach programs, to educate students of all ages in photographic skills. Classes are also offered online, catering to students from around the world, and offering classes in subjects like book production and video, and documentary journalism, focusing on more than simply taking photographs and maintaining the dedication to humanitarian work.

The Victoria & Albert Museum “V&A” (London)

The photography collection at the “V&A” began as early as 1852 in an area filled with cultural icons like the Natural History and Science Museums. Over the years, the institution has amassed nearly one million photographs, covering the entire length of history of the camera, with the oldest photo taken in 1839. In 2016, its already-large collection was bolstered by the addition of more than 400,000 artifacts from the National Media Museum in nearby Bradford. A notable part of this transfer came in the form of the Royal Photographic Society’s collection, which traces the development of photography over 200 years. This collaboration allows a centralized focus on technology and increase public access and awareness of the collection.

Eastman Museum (Rochester, NY)

Who better to hold an impressive collection of photography than George Eastman, founder of Eastman Kodak. Worlds oldest photography museum, established in 1947, and holds several million artifacts, from photographs to film. He left money upon his death for appreciation of the arts, among other activities. The museum is respected among collectors, which has aided in the donations from many collectors around the world. The Eastman Museum collection includes works created in multiple photographic processes and includes all varieties of photographic subjects and styles.

One important feature of this museum is its mission to conserve photographs, preventing further degradation, and to offer works from its collection to researchers and in digital formats, where appropriate. In addition to the collection, tours of the Eastman mansion and adjoining museum facilities, photograph technique (new and old) workshops are held, documentaries are shown, and talks are given, providing community education and outreach.

Royal Institute of British Architects  (London)

Photographs have been part of the history of architecture from the time the method was established. The Royal Institute of British Architects in London is home to the world’s largest collection of architectural photographs, with over 1.5 million images, spanning nearly 200 years. Founded in 1834, members were encouraged to submit pieces (drawings and later, photographs) from its inception, helping to build such a vast collection. As was common with many photographs in the early years, the pictures were seen merely as a form of documentation of the creative architectural works, with little value on their own. However, by the 1980’s, one of the institute’s leaders, Robert Elwall, realized the value of photography on its own, establishing a photography collection filling it with photos from various architects’ personal archives. Within 20 years, the collection had grown so large that a dedicated building was necessary, which was completed in 2002.

This international collection features photographs taken as early as 1843 and includes an impressive assortment of photos taken in the 19th century, as well as the largest archive of photographs from the 1920’s through the 1980’s, which features the work of Dell & Wainwright, official photographers for Architectural Review from 1929-1946. The periodical commissioned its own project in 1969, featuring an exceptional selection of photos which showcase not only architecture, but the humanity found within. To keep the collection relevant in today’s digital world, the collection’s online database featured over 80,000 images which can be viewed online.

Award-Winning Photography Curated for Your Collection

We at Sybaris believe in the power and artistic value of photography, even today. We look for emerging artists, including photographers, worldwide, and featured works from fresh new photographers like Paola Ismene, whose collection can be found here. Let us curate a collection for your taste and budget. Private ARTclub membership offers access to private gallery pieces, events and shows, and other services sure to boost your art collecting experience.