Our photography collection spans the entire history of the medium, with particular strength in 19th-century American and European photography. The de Young accepted photographs into its collection from its earliest years, starting with documentary scenes of the California Midwinter International Exposition of 1894. The collection also includes many historical California and Bay Area photographs, as well as a significant holding of daguerreotype portraits.
The Legion of Honor also amassed historical photographs prior to merging with the de Young. The Legion’s most important acquisition was its 1943 purchase of negatives and prints by Arnold Genthe depicting San Francisco in the immediate aftermath of the 1906 earthquake. After the two institutions were combined to form the Fine Arts Museums in 1972, the photography holdings were united at the Legion within the department of works on paper, the Achenbach Foundation for Graphic Arts. Among the photographers represented in depth are Imogen Cunningham, John Gutmann, Eadweard Muybridge, Bill Owens, Ed Ruscha, David Seymour (Chim), and Arthur Siegel.
Photography is intermittently displayed at both the de Young and the Legion of Honor.