The first photographs to enter the museum’s art collection were 10 prints by Alfred Stieglitz, purchased from the artist out of an exhibition here in 1935. Not until 1983, however, did the institution begin a concerted effort to represent the history of the medium from its origins in 1839 to the present. With more than 8,500 photographic prints, books, and videos, photography now represents the museum’s third-largest collection area.
A great strength are photographs in various techniques by pioneering French, English, and American figures working in the first few decades of the medium’s existence. Major figures in 20th-century European and American photography are represented by multiple vintage images that demonstrate different aspects of their innovative careers. American Pictorialist photography is prominently represented, as are European and American Surrealism, including the second-largest institutional holdings of photographs by Dora Maar. Other artists held in depth include Bruce Davidson, Danny Lyon, Bill Owens, Leonard Freed, Karl Struss, Larry Fink, and Brett Weston. There are significant holdings of 19th-century images of India, 20th-century Cleveland-specific images by regional and national photographers, and 21st-century photography. Over the past decade, numerous acquisitions of work by artists of color, women, and Chinese, African, and South American photographers have helped diversify and globalize the collection