Photographic materials at the Rare Books Library are a rich source for research on the culture, history, and architecture of Egypt and the Middle East. These holdings include collections of prints, negatives, and slides, photograph albums (many compiled by visitors to Egypt ), postcards, stereoscope cards, and rare books featuring the work of early photographers like Francis Frith.
The K.A.C. Creswell Collection of Photographs of Islamic Architecture is one of the best collections of its kind in the world. Prints, postcards, and stereographs by nineteenth and early twentieth century commercial photographers such as Sebah, Bechard, and Abdallah Freres also feature views of architecture in Egypt and other parts of the Middle East. These materials also depict pharaonic structures and artifacts, as well as scenes of contemporary rural and urban life in Egypt and throughout the region.
The collection of photographs by Van-Leo, one of Egypt’s leading studio photographers of the mid-twentieth century, features portraits of Egypt's artistic, intellectual, and political elites. A large set of Van-Leo's self portraits also display his creativity as an art photographer. Images of work by other artists, such as Salah Taher, are also maintained by the RBSCL.
Photograph collections compiled by Mahmoud Qassim and Mahmoud Aly also document Egyptian cinema personalities and productions. The Iskander Family Photograph Collection depicts several generations of a Cairo family, and also contains images of notable people and places in 20th century Egypt. Other archival and manuscript collections also include photographs of various kinds.
The personal and professional papers of architect Hassan Fathy contain photographs of his built works, such as the groundbreaking village project at New Gourna, as well as examples of vernacular architecture from around the world. Especially valuable are photographs taken by Fathy in the early 1960s that document the indigenous architecture of Nubia lost when the region was flooded due to the construction of the Aswan High Dam. Photographs from AUC's Social Research Center also reflect life in Nubia in the 1950s and 1960s.
The photograph collection of the American University in Cairo's University Archives includes images of university buildings and campus life, events, and administrators, faculty, staff, students, and visitors (many well-known), dating to the school’s founding in 1919. The RBSCL also maintains a large collection of slides related to Egyptology and Islamic art and architecture.