The Library's photographic collection is one of the nation's largest and most important, comprising over one million images. About half the collection exists as photographic negatives.

The collection ranges from historical images, including the earliest known photograph taken in Australia (an 1845 daguerreotype of Dr William Bland), to more recent documentary photographs made in the last few months. The Library continues to add to the collection with both contemporary and historical material.

The Library has significant holdings of nineteenth century photography, including the famous Holtermann collection. Bernard Otto Holtermann commissioned the American & Australasian Photographic Company (Beaufoy Merlin and Charles Bayliss) to document gold towns in New South Wales and Victoria from 1872 to 1875. The surviving 3500 wet-plate glass negatives are so detailed that it is possible to reconstruct some towns. They include the world's largest wet-plate negative (1.6 x 0.9 metres), showing the view across the Sydney Harbour from Holtermann's North Sydney home. Other nineteenth century photographers in the collection include Charles Kerry, J. W. Lindt, William Hetzer and the gentlemen amateurs of the 1850s.

Twentieth century documentary photography is also well represented in the Library. Several negative collections (A. J. Perier, Hall & Co) show the first twenty years of the century and the next twenty are captured in the 33 000 negatives taken by Sam Hood and his studio. From 1954 to 1974 the Australian Photographic Agency, a freelance news and commercial studio, documented industry, popular culture, politics, sport, advertising, armed services, transportation, fashion and social activities in 48 000 negatives. Major twentieth century Australian photographers represented in the collections include Frank Hurley, Max Dupain, David Moore and William Yang.

Over 200 000 copy negatives from the massive Government Printer collection document the work of various government departments from 1870 to 1988. It includes the work of outstanding pioneer photographer Charles Pickering. Of particular interest are images taken for the departments of Education, Main Roads and Agriculture.

Although the Library's principal focus is on Sydney and New South Wales, significant historical collections exist of New Guinea and Pacific Islands. An outstanding documentation of early Antarctic exploration can be found in the 2100 negatives from the Australasian Antarctic Expedition (1911-1914) and other journeys in that region.

The extensive portrait collection of the Sydney-based Freeman Studio from 1875 to the present day is an important genealogical resource.

Personal records include the Allen family albums, intimately documenting family life in Sydney from 1890 to 1930.

Photographs can also be found within the personal papers of individuals and organisations, held in the Manuscripts collection

Within the limitations of the Copyright Act, copies of photographs can be made by placing orders with the Library's Document Supply Service.

Contact us for further information.

Quick Links

The State Library provides a free Information Request Service.

Macquarie St, Sydney
NSW 2000, Australia
Tel: (02) 9273 1414

Opening hours  |  Take a tour