America’s continuing love affair with the camera can be traced through the Smithsonian American Art Museum’s collection, which ranges from early daguerreotypes to contemporary digital works. In 1983, the museum began to seriously collect photography. That year, more than 1,800 photographs were transferred to the museum from the National Endowment for the Arts. The collection includes works by Mathew B. Brady, Edward S. Curtis, Timothy H. O’Sullivan, Berenice Abbott, Ansel Adams, Diane Arbus, Tina Barney, Imogen Cunningham, Roy DeCarava, William Christenberry, William Eggleston, Walker Evans, Jan Groover, Alfredo Jaar, Sally Mann, Richard Misrach, Aaron Siskind, and Trevor Paglen. The photography collection also documents America’s changing relationship with the landscape, from sublime shots of the West in the 1860s through contemporary images revealing environmental concerns.
Highlights from this pioneering collection are featured in the 2013 exhibition A Democracy of Images: Photographs from the Smithsonian American Art Museum. Recent major acquisitions include more than 1,000 photographs from Lee Friedlander's The American Monument series, and gifts of 100 photographs by Irving Penn, and seventy-eight photographs by Annie Leibovitz from her series Pilgrimage.