In October 2005, the Portland Art Museum unveiled the region's largest permanent exhibition space dedicated to photography within a museum. Located on the mezzanine floor of the Jubitz Center for Modern and Contemporary Art, this 2,200–square–foot gallery is home to a rotating display of photographs from the Museum's permanent collection. The collection ranges from 1850s daguerreotypes to contemporary inkjet prints and spans the history of the medium as fine art in the 19th and 20th centuries, specifically highlighting 20th–century photography in Oregon.
Established early in the Museum’s history, the photography holdings then consisted of only a few works. With the addition of a permanent curator of photography in the early 1980s, the collection began to rapidly expand. Today, there are approximately 5,000 works in the collection, which is part of the Vivian and Gordon Gilkey Center for Graphic Arts. The majority of images were acquired as gifts, so in a very real sense the collection is a product of the Museum’s community. These images reflect the varied photographic interests of hundreds of individuals whose efforts and gifts have helped shape the collection.
One of the earliest acquisitions was a complete 20–volume set of Edward Sheriff Curtis’s masterwork, The North American Indian. In 1942, the Works Progress Administration of the Federal Art Projects placed a large collection of Minor White’s photographs of Portland on permanent loan. Over the past 20 years, the Museum has also accepted gifts from various donors of more than 50 postwar photographs by White.
The Museum has placed particular emphasis on the acquisition of images that chronicle photography in Oregon and the West, adding to work by Group f/64 organizers Ansel Adams, Edward Weston, and Imogen Cunningham, and tracing a decade-by–decade profile of photographic accomplishments by both acknowledged masters and the under–recognized. Of particular note are in–depth holdings of work by Myra Wiggins, Lily White, and Sarah Ladd, associate members of Alfred Stieglitz’s Photo–Secession Movement, who lived and worked in Salem and Portland at the turn of the 20th century, as well as a rich selection of images reflecting the life work of Al Monner and Todd Walker.
The collection also includes works by noted contemporary photographers, including Cindy Sherman, Lorna Simpson, and Carrie Mae Weems, Robert Adams, Elliot Erwitt, Dianne Kornberg, and Joel Sternfeld.