University of St Andrews

University Library Special Collections

Rare Books

Photographic Books Collection

Images of the Photographic Books Collection

In 1839 a close friendship between two great scientists, the British inventor of photography, W H Fox Talbot, and the Principal of the United College of St Andrews, David Brewster, was the genesis of what is now known as the University of St Andrews Library Photographic Collection. From this early period the University of St Andrews has been collecting examples of photographic works, including books illustrated with photographs.

In 2011, the curators of the Rare Books Collection and the Photographic Collection teamed up to seriously identify these photographically illustrated publications that have been in the University's general or reserve collections and bring them together into a new, open collection called the Photographic Books Collection.

The first step in building this collection was surveying our existing stock, which includes such treasures of a complete copy of Fox Talbot's Pencil of Nature, Muybridge's Descriptive zoopraxography and Blossfeldt's Urformen der Kunst. After this survey was complete the collection was assembled and strengths identified. The collection, it was decided, should not aim to be a comprehensive collection but to bring together rare items and landmark publications. Books heavily illustrated with photographs do belong here, but so do seminal books about photographic techniques or processes. Due to the nature of our existing holdings and the heavily Scottish and topographically oriented mandate of the Photographic Collection there will be a Scottish geographical bias to the character of the collection.

Several new acquisitions have been made since 2011 to build on strengths starting to develop and to stretch the outlook of future collection. Included in these recent acquisitions are Robert Franks Les américains, László Moholy-Nagy's 60 Fotos = 60 Photos = 60 Photographies and El Lissitzky's Russland. There are now over 250 books in the Photographic Books Collection, and is constantly growing as more items are found in our reserve collections. There is a full catalogue of all Photographic Books.


Find out how you can get copies of books, manuscripts or photographs held within Special Collections.

Collection development policy

Discover how the Special Collections Division makes decisions on the development of its rare book collections.

Current projects

Read about the exciting collection projects the Rare Books team is currently working on, and those that have recently been completed.