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VMFA’s collection of approximately 2,000 photographs represents both important moments in the history of the medium and key 20th- and 21st-century photographers, including Edward Weston, André Kertész, Gordon Parks, Cindy Sherman, Sally Mann, and Hank Willis Thomas.

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Though VMFA’s photography collection began in its opening year with a gift from the Carnegie Corporation of 160 photographs by Francis Benjamin Johnston, the museum did not begin to strategically build the collection until 1973. Over the past several years, VMFA has placed special emphasis on Civil Rights photography and works by African American photographers while also acquiring works by contemporary photographers from Virginia and around the world.

Civil Rights Photography

In 2010, VMFA began acquiring photographs representing key moments in the Civil Rights era ranging from the mid-1950s through the early 1970s. The VMFA’s collection includes works by such notable artists as James Karales, Gordon Parks, Louis Draper, and Steven Shames, among others. Featured icons depicted in these acquired photographs include Martin Luther King Jr., Malcolm X, Angela Davis, and Stokely Carmichael.

American Photography: The First 100 Years

Photography was first introduced to the United States in the early 1840s. Daguerreian photography made portraiture available to an increasing number of Americans. Later, intrepid photographers explored the American West with large format cameras, producing sweeping landscape vistas. At the turn of the twentieth century, the affordability of materials and a greater simplicity of process allowed even more artists to experiment with both aestheticized and sharply focused, straight photography.

Contemporary Photography

Since the 1980s, many contemporary artists have used photography to explore issues of gender, race, identity, and power. Some artists have also combined and manipulated traditional and modern techniques to investigate concepts of time and perception, further pushing the boundaries of photographic representation.


Willie Anne Wright: Artist and Alchemist

Celebrate this groundbreaking, internationally renowned photographer and painter whose remarkable Richmond-based career spans over six decades. Presenting 63 photographs and 9 paintings by the Richmond native, born in 1924, this is the first major exhibition to explore the trajectory of her impressive 60-year career. From playful and irreverent scenes of everyday life to ethereal evocations of the past, Willie Anne Wright’s experimental paintings and photographs examine pop-culture, feminine identity, the pull of history and the shifting cultural landscape of the South. With a focus on photography’s role in shaping collective understandings of history, place, and gender, the exhibition draws from VMFA’s recent acquisition of Wright’s work, including more than 230 photographs and 10 paintings, as well as a comprehensive artist archive. 

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Willie at Ruth’s Farm, 1984, Willie Anne Wright (American, born 1924), silver dye bleach print. Virginia Museum of Fine Arts, Arthur and Margaret Glasgow Endowment


Picture Windows: Photographs from the Collection

Picture Windows: Photographs from the Collection explores the window as subject and device in 20th-cenutry photographs through 18 photographs in the museum’s permanent collection. The rich variety of pictures on view illustrates how each artist explores the same architectural feature in distinct ways. These poetic, quiet, and luminous photographs of windows contemplate the use of formal devices to create metaphors, shape experiences, and enlarge our understanding of the world.

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300 W. 23rd Street, New York, New York, 1978, from the series Picture Window, John, Phahl (American, 1939–2020), chromogenic print. Virginia Museum of Fine Arts, Gift of Kent and Marcia Minichiello, 2022.734