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The photography collection consists of almost 3000 works, spanning the history of the medium from 1844 until the present. The Museum started seriously collecting photography in the 1970s, but the first group of work to be acquired came directly from Ansel Adams, who visited St. Louis in 1945. There are strengths in 20th-century American and German, and large individual holdings of prints by Edward Curtis, Paul Strand, Andreas Feininger, Brett Weston, Moneta Sleet Jr, and Nicolas Nixon. Important works in the collection include Ansel Adams' nature study, Pine Forest in Snow, Yosemite National Park (1933), Lazlo Moholy-Nagy's unique photogram, Abstraction (1925), Tina Barney's environmental portrait, Father and Sons (1996) and Andreas Gursky's monumental Library (1999).

Works on paper are exhibited on a rotating basis and can also be viewed by appointment in the Study Room for Prints, Drawings, and Photographs. The Friends of Photography provides Museum members with opportunities to study the photographic collection and enrich their knowledge of the field through such events as private exhibition tours and artist presentations.