The photography collection at the George Eastman Museum, among the oldest and best in the world, comprises more than 400,000 photographic objects dating from the introduction of the medium in 1839 through to the present day. It encompasses works made in all major photographic processes, from daguerreotype to digital, for a wide range of purposes, from amateur pursuit to artistic enterprise, from scientific inquiry to documentary record. The collection includes work by more than eight thousand photographers, and it continues to expand.
The core of the museum’s photography holdings are based on three pioneering private collections:
- Gabriel Cromer (1873–1934), a French photographer and collector, gathered more than six thousand photographs, photography-related books, and photographic apparatus relating to early French photography. The Eastman Kodak Company acquired Cromer’s collection from his widow in 1939 and transported it out of France months before Germany invaded. It was transferred to the George Eastman Museum in 1948, shortly after the museum was founded.
- Three years later, curator of photography Beaumont Newhall arranged for Chicago collector Alden Scott Boyer (1887–1953) to give his collection of 13,500 photography-related objects to the museum, significantly expanding its holdings of both daguerreotypes by the American partnership Southworth & Hawes and early English photographs and apparatus.
- In 1977, the collection of Louis Walton Sipley (1897–1968), who had founded the American Museum of Photography in Philadelphia in 1940, was donated to the museum by 3M Corporation. Acquired from Sipley’s widow, this collection consists primarily of American photographs, photographic ephemera, and photomechanical objects.
The museum holds one of the world’s most important collections of nineteenth-century photography, including major holdings of work by Louis Jacques Mandé Daguerre, William Henry Fox Talbot, Southworth & Hawes, Édouard Baldus, Julia Margaret Cameron, Roger Fenton, Nadar, Mathew Brady, Francis Frith, Carleton Watkins, Eadweard Muybridge, Felice Beato, Timothy H. O’Sullivan, John Thomson, William Henry Jackson, Frederick H. Evans, and Peter Henry Emerson, among others.
The Eastman Museum has received, from the artists or their heirs, important donations of the works of Alfred Stieglitz, Lewis Hine, Edward Steichen, Alvin Langdon Coburn, Nickolas Muray, Ansel Adams, Harold Edgerton, Aaron Siskind, Victor Keppler, Arnold Newman, John Pfahl, and Roger Mertin. The museum also has acquired, by donation or purchase, significant holdings of works by twentieth-century masters Gertrude Käsebier, Eugène Atget, Francis Bruguière, Imogen Cunningham, Edward Weston, Man Ray, Paul Strand, André Kertész, Dorothea Lange, László Moholy-Nagy, Josef Sudek, Margaret Bourke-White, Minor White, Harry Callahan, Robert Frank, Garry Winogrand, and Lee Friedlander—among many others—as well as more contemporary artists such as Robert Heinecken, Mary Ellen Mark, Danny Lyon, Larry Clark, Lewis Baltz, Nicholas Nixon, and Stephen Shore.
The Eastman Museum has an ongoing commitment to collecting contemporary photography and has acquired key works by Andy Warhol, Dawoud Bey, David Levinthal, Gillian Wearing, Ori Gersht, and Chris McCaw, among others.