Two women with large hats and dresses in a floral patterns sit in a grassy field with an organic pattern behind them.

Twentieth-Century Artists

The collection notably includes art of the twentieth century representing principal art movements, clubs, schools, and collectives in modern African art history.
portrait of a woman her arms crossed over the top of her head and framing her face.

Harry Callahan and the Institute of Design

Founded in Chicago in 1937 by the multidisciplinary artist László Moholy-Nagy, the Institute of Design was one of the most groundbreaking and influential art schools in the United States. Photography was key to the school’s pedagogy, and the curriculum encouraged experimentation and iteration, both in the studio and out in the world, as means to aesthetic innovation. The faculty comprised many of the luminaries of twentieth-century photography including Harry Callahan, and many of their students became important photographers and teachers themselves.
Oaks draped with Spanish moss.

Picturing the South Commissions

Initiated in 1996, the High’s Picturing the South project provides a current perspective on Southern subjects and themes while building the Museum’s collection of contemporary photography. The works commissioned for this series have inspired some of today’s foremost photographers to create fresh chapters in ongoing projects or wholly new bodies of work.
landscape with lake, mountain and trees, drenched in surrealistic colors.

Experimental Processes

What physically constitutes a photograph is the constantly evolving result of chemical and mechanical advancements in technology. Since the nineteenth century, artists have explored the expressive potential offered by the various forms of photography from daguerreotypes and cyanotypes to platinum prints and Polaroids. In recent years as digital technology has separated the photographic image from a physical form, contemporary artists have embraced experimental and antiquated forms of photography to engage with the physical presence and experience of photographs.
within a crowd, a man in a hat leans against a rail holding a tin can.

American Documentary

The immediacy and accuracy of photography make it an ideal medium to tell stories about the world and deliver information to a broad public. Beyond simply bearing witness to social ills, political dissonance, or environmental tragedy, many photographers throughout the twentieth century used their cameras to inform their audiences and advocate for social change. The High’s collection is particularly strong in American documentary photography and includes work by Lewis Hine, Berenice Abbott, Walker Evans, Bruce Davidson, Diane Arbus, Susan Meiselas, Paul D’Amato, and Mary Ellen Mark. 
Stellarator Wendelstein 7-X Detail

Contemporary Photography

Photography is the dominant visual language of our time, and the High’s collection aims to create a relevant dialogue around contemporary image culture. The Museum is committed to collecting art of the present moment and actively pursues work by the medium’s leading global practitioners. The collection of contemporary photographs includes work by Thomas Struth, Taryn Simon, Hiroshi Sugimoto, Zanele Muholi, Jeff Wall, Sally Mann, Philip-Lorca diCorcia, Deana Lawson, and Sze Tsung Leong.


Modernism marked a rejection of naturalism and academicism as artists began to experiment with their approaches to answering fundamental questions about art and human experience. The High’s collection of photographs from the modernist period numbers over two thousand prints, with an emphasis on American and European artists. It includes key works by Alfred Stieglitz, Paul Strand, Man Ray, Imogen Cunningham, Edward Weston, Berenice Abbott, Wynn Bullock, Walker Evans, and Henri Cartier-Bresson. 
blue photogram of a leaf.

Nineteenth Century

The medium of photography was invented in the mid-nineteenth century and ushered in a modern era in which images were easy to produce and disseminate. Photography democratized image making by making portraiture accessible to nearly anyone for the first time, and it brought the world closer as people could view widely circulated photographs of distant places and world events.
hundreds of black men march holding signs that read "I am a man."

Civil Rights

The High holds one of the country’s most significant collections of photographs documenting the civil rights movement with over three hundred works. These images were made by committed artists, activists, and journalists who risked injury, arrest, and even death to document this critical moment of change in our nation.
Rebel baracade in front of Atlanta in 1864.

Southern Photography

Approximately one-third of the High’s Photography collection relates to the South. The material is diverse, ranging from documentation of the Civil War and Great Depression to holdings of major twentieth-century photographers of the region and contemporary artists inspired by the South’s geographical and social landscapes. The collection represents one of the most significant repositories for assessing the South’s contributions to the history of photography.