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VMFA acquires extensive photography book collection

“This collection is a transformative donation and has greatly increased our holdings in the subject areas of American and European photography,” said Alex Nyerges, VMFA’s Director and CEO.

Trevor Dickerson



The Virginia Museum of Fine Arts (VMFA) has announced the gift of a significant library of more than 2,000 American and European photography books, donated by Barry and Gretchen Singer.

“This collection is a transformative donation and has greatly increased our holdings in the subject areas of American and European photography,” said Alex Nyerges, VMFA’s Director and CEO. “These books are already proving invaluable to exhibitions developed by the Virginia Museum of Fine Arts, and this gift further supports the museum’s future photography galleries that are being planned as part of our current expansion project.”

Barry Singer has been one of the country’s leading photography gallerists with a prominent gallery in Petaluma, California, specializing in 19th- and 20th-century photography. “A 2019 conversation with Alex at Paris Photo about the future of my large library of photography books led to my decision to give the collection to VMFA,” said Singer. “I knew that the museum would be able to ensure their care and value their importance, and that the books would be fundamental to VMFA’s other collections and exhibitions.”

Several significant monographs and reference books have been added to the general collection at VMFA’s Margaret R. and Robert M. Freeman Library, and many exceptional photography books and periodicals, including first editions and signed copies, are now part of VMFA’s rare book collection. The Singers’ gift includes the first edition of Robert Frank’s The Americans, published as Les Américains by Robert Delpire in 1958, Josef Sudek Fotografie by Czech film and photography critic Lubomír Linhart, published in 1956, and a first edition of Naked City by legendary photojournalist Weegee, published in 1945.

“This donation is especially relevant because the books relate directly to photographs in VMFA’s collection,” said Lee Ceperich, Director of Library and Special Collections at VMFA. “The library exists to support research about the art collection, tell stories and make connections between the art and the widest audience possible.”

Sarah Kennel, the museum’s Aaron Siskind Curator of Photography and Director of the Raysor Center, notes that many of these rare photography books will augment VMFA’s exhibitions. “One of the most important ways that photography has circulated in the past century is through the photo book, so these very rare editions are an exciting expansion to our holdings and allow us to better show how photography has shaped modern culture.” Included in the donated collection are two books featuring works by Ansel Adams, Michael and Anne in the Yosemite Valley (1941) and The Four Seasons in Yosemite National Park: A Photographic Story of Yosemite’s Spectacular Scenery (1940) — both of which appeared in VMFA’s traveling exhibition Ansel Adams: Compositions in Nature. Additionally, other books from the collection were used to inform the development of the museum’s exhibition Man Ray: The Paris Years and still others will be featured in the upcoming exhibition American, Born Hungary planned to open at VMFA in 2024.

VMFA’s Margaret R. and Robert M. Freeman Library and Special Collections is the most comprehensive art museum research library in the southeastern United States. With more than 150,000 volumes and 200 periodical titles, it provides important resources for the study of art. The library’s archives and rare book holdings include primary source material related to the history and activities of VMFA, the museum’s art collection, the history of art and artists in Virginia.

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Trevor Dickerson is the Editor and Co-Founder of RVAHub.