Thirty-five years ago the Getty Museum created its Department of Photographs with the acquisition of several world-famous private collections. This dramatic initiative, which extended the institution’s holdings well beyond the parameters favored by J. Paul Getty, immediately established the Museum as a leading center for photography. While the founding collections are particularly strong in nineteenth and early-twentieth-century European and American material, the department now embraces contemporary photography and, increasingly, work produced around the world. Currently numbering over 148,000 photographs, the collection forms a vast mosaic that continues to evolve, shaped by several generations of curators and benefiting from the generosity of engaged and enthusiastic patrons and collectors.
Since the department’s founding, its photographs have been featured in more than 160 exhibitions at the Getty, but only a small percentage of the entire collection has ever been on public display. For this exhibition, rather than showcasing the best-known highlights, the curatorial team has unearthed an array of treasures that have never been shown here before. Their selection offers a stimulating pathway through the collection, highlighting visual associations among photographs from different places and times to illuminate the breadth of the Getty’s holdings and underscore a sense of continuity and change within the history of the medium.
The curators have personalized particular labels to give voice to their individual insights and perspectives.