Pre-eminent, rare collection of photobooks featuring best of 20th century photography donated to Bodleian Libraries


Pre-eminent, rare collection of photobooks featuring best of 20th century photography donated to Bodleian Libraries

Image of a ringbound photobook with a picture of a tobacconist and tram at nightOxford, 28 February 2020 – A major collection of rare photobooks has been given to the Bodleian Libraries, building on the Libraries world-class collection of photographic works and books. The donation includes works from some of the most renowned photographers from the 20th century, including Man Ray and Robert Capa, Henri Cartier-Bresson and Diane Arbus. 

The collection of more than 2,300 printed photobooks published between 1887 and 2016 includes monographs, serials, exhibition catalogues, as well as artist and private press books. It features a huge variety of subjects and photographers, with particular strength in photobooks from France and Germany.

A collection of this size and breadth is particularly rare and its size makes this one of the largest donations to the Bodleian Libraries so far this century, and builds on its growing photographic resources; the Libraries already hold one of the earliest photobooks, The Pencil of Nature, produced by William Henry Fox Talbot between 1844–46.

A small selection of photobooks – by Brassai, Man Ray, Krull, and Cartier-Bresson – along with recently acquired photographs, will feature in a one-day display in the Weston Library on 13 March 2020. The public areas of the Weston Library will be closed until 1.30pm on 13 March so the display will be available to view from 1.30–5pm.

Photobooks are books designed to share the photographic work of individual photographers, groups, studios or collectives, sometimes with accompanying text, sometimes purely based on images. Images are often presented in a sequence to communicate a narrative, and innovative printing techniques are often used to reproduce the photographic image. Collaborations with writers and poets sometimes feature as part of the approach to making photobooks, but they could also reflect on the role of photography in advertising, propaganda, industry and public life. Many titles are produced in very small editions and are therefore very rare. Photobooks are vulnerable to light and damage caused by handling so photobooks in good condition are highly collectable.

The photobooks were given to the Bodleian Libraries by Sir Charles Chadwyck-Healey through the generosity of the Arts Council England’s Cultural Gifts Scheme. Chadwyck-Healey, founder of both the Chadwyck-Healey publishing group and Environmental Risk Information and Imaging Services, is also an Honorary Fellow of Trinity College, Oxford.

Richard Ovenden, Bodley’s Librarian said, “The Chadwyck-Healey collection of photobooks is a major acquisition for the Bodleian, immeasurably enriching our holdings through adding highly significant materials from European, Russian, Japanese and American photographers. This collection has great strengths including French Surrealist and avant-garde photography, the scarce work of the Russian constructivists, and the major American photographic movements. Photography is an area of growing scholarly importance, and it is vital that a great research library like the Bodleian is able to document in depth this crucial means of communicating visual ideas in the modern world.”

The photobooks donated to the Bodleian Libraries include:

  • Sepia photograph of mother and three childrenMan Ray Photographies 1920-1934 (1934) – An extremely rare modernist/surrealist photobook, spiral-bound with text in French and English. Man Ray’s first monograph, it begins with a portrait drawing of Man Ray by Pablo Picasso and consists of 104 photographs of still lifes, rooms, landscapes, cityscapes, and flowers.
  • Henri Cartier-Bresson’s The Decisive Moment (1952), considered one of the most influential photobooks of all time. Both the US and French edition (Images à la Sauvette) are included in the collection, both with presentation inscriptions from the photographer, and in the famous dust wrapper designed by Matisse.
  • Robert Capa’s Slightly out of Focus (1947), which features iconic images of the D-Day landings at Normandy, taken by the Hungarian-born photojournalist and co-founder of the famous Magnum photographic agency.
  • Paris vu par André Kertész (Day of Paris) (1945) which features a superb collection of photographs of everyday life in Paris. Kertész was considered a key figure in photojournalism and Day of Paris is his most sought-after title.
  • Bill Brandt’s The English at Home (1936), a hugely influential collection of 63 photographs capturing domestic life in challenging juxtapositions, revealing class inequality of the time.
  • Brassai, Paris de nuit (1933), a collaboration between the Hungarian photographer Brassai and the French writer Paul Morand, this is one of the first books of photographs taken at night. The images, with their iconic design (full-bleed images), revolutionised the way photo-books looked. One of very few copies in UK libraries.
  • Metal(1928) by photojournalist Germaine Krull, a contemporary of Man Ray, features a series of 64 collotypes depicting industrial structures and one of the pioneering works of modernist photography. This is one of the few copies available in public collections in the UK.
  • Other photobooks by Diane Arbus, Philippe Halsman, Edward Weston, Manuel Alvarez Bravo, Robert Frank and August Sander.

Over 600 of the photobooks in the collection have been catalogued already and are available for library readers to access in The remaining photobooks will be catalogued over the next year for completion in March 2021. 



For further information, image requests or a preview of the exhibition please contact:

Suzanne de la Rosa, Head of Marketing & Communications

Tel: 01865 287398
Mob: 07525 227337

About Sir Charles Chadwyck-Healey

Sir Charles Chadwyck-Healey founded the Chadwyck-Healey publishing group in 1973, later sold to Proquest in 1999. In 1989 Chadwyck-Healey founded Eriis (the Environmental Risk Information and Imaging Service) later renamed GeoSure and he was also one of the founding partners in MicroPatent in New Haven, Connecticut. He was a member of the Library and Information Commission 1995-2000; and the Marshall Aid Commemoration Commission 1994-2000. He is an Honorary Fellow of Trinity College, Oxford. In retirement he was the first chairman of openDemocracy Ltd 2001-2004; High Sheriff of Cambridgeshire 2004-2005; Deputy Lieutenant of Cambridgeshire 2004; and chairman of the Wildlife Trust of Bedfordshire, Cambridgeshire, and Northamptonshire 2009-2013.

About the Bodleian Libraries

The Bodleian Libraries at the University of Oxford is the largest university library system in the United Kingdom. It includes the principal University library – the Bodleian Library – which has been a legal deposit library for 400 years; as well as 27 libraries across Oxford including major research libraries and faculty, department and institute libraries. Together, the Libraries hold more than 13 million printed items, over 80,000 e-journals and outstanding special collections including rare books and manuscripts, classical papyri, maps, music, art and printed ephemera. Members of the public can explore the collections via the Bodleian’s online image portal at or by visiting the exhibition galleries in the Bodleian’s Weston Library. For more information, visit

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