In 2009, the Art of Photography Department was established at the Pushkin State Museum of Fine Arts. The main task of the Department is to store, collect and study unique visual materials connected with the history of photography that represent changes in artistic styles, the development of photographic techniques, and the evolution of technologies and visual language. Important areas of the Department’s activity are research practice, projects, online as well, and exhibition work.
Regarding the purchase or donation of the original photographs, glass and film negatives, albums, and various printed materials, the Museum is guided by the general principles of formation of the Museum Fund of the Russian Federation. As well as the State Tretyakov Gallery, the State Historical Museum and the State Russian Museum, the Pushkin State Museum of Fine Arts participates in the National Photography Documents Preservation Program, included in the state funds of the Russian Federation.
The photography collection began to be formed in 1986, and was stored in the Manuscripts Department. In 2022, the photography fund of the Pushkin State Museum of Fine Arts house 2167 depository items, including 609 works from the Manuscripts Department. The collection covers the period from the 1880s to the 2010s, and contains works by 150 authors, both Russian and foreign, belonging to different schools and movements.
Exhibition work is based on active interaction with major international cultural institutions (museums, funds, galleries), which house the collections of historical and contemporary photography.
Exhibitions dedicated to the art of photography were organized in the museum in the early decades of the 20th century. In 1924, an Exhibition of photographs of the Russian Photographic Society was held in the museum; and in 1937 – the First All-Union Exhibition of Photographic Art, which had occupied most of the halls on the second floor of the Main Building. The large-scale project presented 319 photographers to the Soviet audience; the exposition consisted of 1586 photographs. More than 35 thousand people visited the exhibition. This event became especially important because new art was presented in a classical museum.
Since the 1980s, the Pushkin State Museum of Fine Arts held several exhibitions of famous photographers: exhibitions of the works by Josef Sudek (1985), Helmut Newton (1989), August Zander (1994), Peter Lindbergh (2002), Boris Ignatovich (2002). The project “Helmut Newton in Moscow. The Photographic Work” was unique and very courageous: at the end of the 1980s, there were no specialized institutions in Russia, which could show such provocative works. The artist himself came to the opening in Moscow.
In 2003, the exhibition “Looking at Photographs” (100 Pictures from the Collection of the Museum of Modern Art in New York) was a big success. The curator was John Szarkowsky – historian, one of the outstanding photography specialists.
Since its founding, the Department has carried out a number of projects dedicated to fine art photography, within which the Pushkin State Museum of Fine Arts has collaborated with such museums as the National Portrait Gallery (London); the Victoria and Albert Museum (London); the National Science and Media Museum (Bradford); the Centre Pompidou (Paris); the Israel Museum (Jerusalem); the Hara Museum of Contemporary Art (Tokyo); the National Museum of Art, Osaka; the National Museum of Modern Art, Kyoto, as well as the Man Ray Trust (New York).
In 2012, the exhibition “Museum. The Look of the Photographer” was dedicated to the 100th anniversary of the Pushkin State Museum of Fine Arts. About 30 famous contemporary photographers from Russia took part in the project. They presented their vision of the Pushkin Museum in various genres, styles and author’s interpretations.
In 2018, the Pushkin State Museum of Fine Arts held for the first time a scientific conference within a unique exhibition of the works by the pioneer of photography ‘William Henry Fox Talbot. At the Origins of Photography’.
The experts from the Russian Academy of Sciences, famous museums, institutions, and libraries attended the conference. Wide ranges of issues were considered: early photography, photography printing technology, historical and artistic aspects of studying photography, and the problems of storage, restoration, identification and attribution. You can learn more about conference program and materials here, see video of conference reports.
In 2021, the Art of Photography Department was renamed the Photography Department. Undoubtedly, photography is a complex phenomenon, including historical and cultural aspects, no less important than the aesthetic development of the surrounding world. The new specifics of the Department’s activities will make it possible to focus attention on artistic problems, to target on the issues of technology, applied and scientific existence of photography, to reconstruct the practices of understanding the medium, to model new contexts of perception of various images, from applied prints to digital art.
The lecture hall of the Pushkin State Museum of Fine Arts annually hosts a series of lectures on the history and theory of world photography.