Photograph Collections

Regional overview


The Museum’s photographs of Africa include a collection of prints by Richard Buchta from Sudan and Uganda in 1878-9, one of the earliest sets of photographs of the African interior (view). Many of the Museum’s African collections are unique records of anthropological fieldwork and travel: the French explorer and ethnographer Robert Hottot in Congo (1906–8) (view exhibition); Charles W. Hobley in Kenya (1902) (view); anthropologist Robert S. Rattray in Ashanti, Ghana (1920s); anthropologist Edward Evan Evans-Pritchard in Sudan (1926–36) (view); anthropologist Godfrey Lienhardt in Sudan (1947–51) (view); explorer Wilfred Thesiger in Sudan (view), Ethiopia, Morocco, Kenya and Tanzania (1937–1980s). A number of other collections have been extensively researched and published, such as the photographs by Lawrence and Selkirk of San prisoners in Cape Town (1870-1), and photographs from the Punitive Expedition to Benin (1897). In 2010 the Museum organised the major exhibition and publication Wilfred Thesiger in Africa.

zande binza
Zande binza (witchdoctor), Sudan,
by Richard Buchta, 1879.
PRM 1998.203.1.54


The Museum’s North American material, whilst more limited than that found in North American collections, is nonetheless one of the most significant in the UK, including a series of early portraits of chiefs who visited Washington DC in 1856-7, portraits by C.M. Bell before 1884 and J. Hillers’s photographs from the US Geological Survey to the southwest in 1878. In 1996 the Museum organised the major exhibition Native American Photographs: Nineteenth-Century Images from the Collections (18 May – 28 September 1996), and more information about the Museum’s holdings is available online (view). The Museum was a major lender of original material to one of the most significant UK exhibitions of North American photography in recent years, Native Nations: Journeys in American Photography (Barbican Art Gallery, 1998).

North America
Studio portrait of Hekha'ka Ma'ni
[Walking Elk], by Julian Vannerson
& James E. McClees, 1858–9.
PRM 1998.129.4


South America
has been one of the strongest areas of recent collecting activity by the Museum. Early collections include prints by missionary Andrew Pride in the Gran Chaco (circa 1900) and Charles Kroehle in Peru (circa 1890). Recent acquisitions have included extensive and significant field archives, such as that of ethnobiologist Darrell Posey in Brazil (1980s); anthropologist Peter Rivière in Brazil/Surinam (1960s/70s); Brian Moser and Donald Tayler’s ethnographic expedition to Colombia (1960-1) as well as that of Jonathan Ambache and Richard Saumarez Smith to the same country (1965).

two kayapo boys
Two Kayapó boys, Gorotire, Brazil,
by Darrell Posey, 1980s.
PRM 2001.82.1957


Undoubtedly the major strength of the Museum’s Asian photograph collection is its Tibetan collection, which ranks as one of the most significant in the world. A major AHRC research project in 2003-5 made some 6000 of the Museum’s Tibetan photographs taken between 1920 and 1950 available online, alongside a wealth of documentary and interactive material. Other significant collections from the continent are those taken in Nagaland: collections by Robert Woodthorpe (1870s-90s), J.H. Hutton (1920s), Henry Balfour (1920s), Charles Pawsey (1920s), Ursula Graham Bower (1930s-40s), Charles Robert Stonor (1940s) and Milada Ganguli (1970s), make this one of the most significant archives from the colonial period in north-east India. Other notable collections include photographs by Henry Edward Laver along the Lower Yangtze from Shanghai (1906-8), Michael Aris in Bhutan (1960s onwards), photographs by G. Harvey in Shan State, Burma (1920s), Wilfred Thesiger in Pakistan and Afghanistan (1950s-60s), curator of the Raffles Museum Carl Gibson-Hill’s photographs of the Malay Peninsula and Singapore (1940s-50s), and Charles Hose’s photographs from Sarawak (1890s).

portrait of Tsarong
Portrait of Tsarong in Lhasa, by Frederick Spencer Chapman,
PRM 1937.1998.131.470.3.


The Museum’s Australian collections are internationally significant, and include the earliest known photograph of an indigenous South Australian, known as Tenberry, from the early 1850s. The Museum also has a set of ten prints dating to the 1870s that derive from those originally collected by Amalie Dietrich for the Godeffroy Museum (Hamburg) in the 1860s in Queensland (see online article). There are also important nineteenth-century prints by photographers such as Kerry and Co. (Sydney), Thomas Jetson Washbourne (Melbourne), John William Lindt (Grafton, New South Wales), Paul Foelsche (Darwin), Frederick Kruger at Coranderrk and John Watt Beattie and Charles Alfred Woolley (Tasmania). Significant field collections include those from Northern Territory by Elsie Masson (1912-14), Walter Baldwin Spencer and Frank Gillen (1890s onwards) and Mervyn John Holmes (about 1912). Recent significant acquisitions include the field photographs of anthropologist Peter Worsley from Groote Eylandt (1950-1).

print showing images available from Kerry's studio, Sydney, 1898
Prints showing images available
from Kerry's studio, Sydney, 1898.
PRM 1998.249.4.2

Although not historically a major area of collecting activity, the Museum’s European collection nonetheless contains interesting and important nineteenth-century material. The ethnographic study of European peoples was far more integral to anthropological thinking in the nineteenth century than in the twentieth, and Pitt-Rivers himself collected and displayed photographs of Europeans for comparative purposes. Many of the Museum’s most significant Europeanphotographs are cartes-de-visite of Scandinavian subjects, especially the Sami people of Finland, collected by the archaeologist Arthur Evans in the 1870s, and those copied by Carl Dammann of Hamburg, also in the 1870s. Many early images of European peoples are also contained in an early series made for the Musée de Paris between 1862 and 1865. The Museum also has a number of interesting late nineteenth-century images of Ireland, such as those by Robert J. Welch, a Belfast-born commercial photographer. Other significant collections from eastern Europe include those by Fanny Foster in Yugoslavia from the 1920s onwards, John F. Baddeley in the Caucasus in the late 1890s, and Edith Durham’s photographs from Albania and the Balkans in the early twentieth century.

carte de visite of Finnish couple
Carte-de-visite of Finnish couple,
collected by Arthur Evans in 1873.
PRM 1941.8.78.

The Middle East collections of the Museum are dominated by a single internationally-significant collection, that of the traveler and explorer Sir Wilfred Thesiger, whose writings on Arabia became classics of twentieth-century travel literature. The Museum formally acquired the Thesiger Collection in 2004 from the UK Government via its art in lieu of inheritance tax scheme.Thesiger’s photographs include rare early images of Arabia (1940s), the marshes of southern Iraq (1950s), Iran (1960s) and Iraqi Kurdistan (1940s-1950s), amongst other places. Other significant collections include photographs by Robert E. Cheesman from Iraq and Saudi Arabia (1920s), and a rare set of prints from the 1920s by the Tehran-based photographer Antoin Sevruguin.

interior of mudhif
Interior of mudhif (guesthouse), Iraq,
by Wilfred Thesiger, 1958.
PRM 2004.130.23229.


The Museum’s Pacific collections are internationally significant. Although not the largest (numbering some 10,000 items), it is extremely rich in early images and documentation. It includes a collection of photographs taken for C. F. Wood in Fiji, Samoa and Ellice Islands in 1873, as well as a well-documented collection by William A. D. Acland from expeditions to Vanuatu and Samoa in the 1880s.The nineteenth-century material also includes examples from many important colonial photographers, such as Thomas Andrew in Samoa, Josiah Martin in New Zealand and the Dufty Brothers in Fiji. There is a group of images from the Burton Brothers’s 1885 “Coral Islands” series (from Fiji, Tonga and Samoa) with original stamped mounts. There are also important field collections by Diamond Jenness (Massim, 1911-12), A. C. Hocart (Fiji, circa 1910), and Beatrice Blackwood in Papua New Guinea, New Britain and the Solomon Islands (1930s). The Museum also holds one of the most significant photograph and manuscript collections relating to the New Zealand guide and personality Makereti (1873-1930), who was associated with the Museum.

carte de visite of two men of New Caledonia
Carte-de-visite of two men of New
Caledonia by Edward Henry Dufty,
about 1877. PRM 1998.276.57.