The photography program at the MFA dates to 1924 when Alfred Stieglitz gave 27 of his photographs, making the Museum one of the first art museums to establish a photography collection. The Museum’s first photographic purchases were made in the 1960s when Clifford Ackley, Ruth and Carl J. Shapiro Curator of Prints and Drawings, joined the curatorial staff. Primarily a scholar of Old Master prints, Cliff—with his breadth of knowledge and inimitable eye—developed the collection into one that was widely recognized for its richness and high quality.

A turning point for the collection was 2001 when the Museum established the first curator dedicated to photography; Anne Havinga (long a curator of Prints, Drawings, and Photographs and today the Estrellita and Yousuf Karsh Senior Curator of Photographs) filled the role. Karen Haas, Lane Curator of Photographs, joined the department at the same time. Much has happened since: the department grew with the additions of Kristen Gresh, Estrellita and Yousuf Karsh Curator of Photographs, and James Leighton, curatorial research associate; acquisition funds have been raised; gallery space and curatorships have been endowed; and the Friends of Photography group was created.

Thanks to the Herb Ritts Foundation, the Museum established its first gallery for photography in 2008. Exhibitions range from historically based to those that are thematically diverse.

Major recent additions to the collection have included a large number of early French and British photographs, turn-of-the-century photographs, the Lane Collection of more than 6,000 photographs (including Edward Weston, Charles Sheeler, Ansel Adams, and Imogen Cunningham), European postwar abstraction, Bruce Davidson’s original East 100th Street, Nicholas Nixon’s complete suite of Brown Sisters, archives of the work of Yousuf Karsh and Herb Ritts, and contemporary photography by the likes of Nan Goldin, Marco Breuer, Dawoud Bey, and Hiroshi Sugimoto.

Some exciting current projects include “Imogen Cunningham: In Focus,” curated by Karen Haas, on view in the Herb Ritts Gallery until June 18, and the upcoming “Memory Unearthed: The Lodz Ghetto Photographs of Henryk Ross,” curated by Kristen Gresh, traveling from the Art Gallery of Ontario to the Linde Family Wing for Contemporary Art in March.


Don’t miss the opportunity to discover more about this thriving area of the collection and join the Friends of Photography Fan group with an additional gift of $250. To join, please call 617-369-3211.

Friends of Photography Upcoming Events

An Evening with Malcolm Daniel, curator of photgraphy at the Museum of Fine Arts, Houston on March 2, 2017

Private curatorial tour of “Memory Unearthed: The Lodz Ghetto Photographs of Henryk Ross” on April 27, 2017

Above: Courtesy of Liza Voll