The CSAC Photography Section dates back to 1970, with a pair of exhibitions on Lee Friedlander and New Photography USA in collaboration with the Photography Department of New York’s MOMA.

It was this model, and that of the Library of Congress in Washington, that inspired Arturo Carlo Quintavalle, who acquired for the University of Parma over 3,000 photographs from the Farm Security Administration (by Dorothea Lange, Walker Evans, Ben Shahn and others) and began to gather donations from photographers and private archives. This was the only university institute in Italy dealing with photography, and the first (from 1978) to feature suitably air-conditioned environments to store photographic material. As a result, the collections and the number of exhibitions grew rapidly.

In 1973, there was the first anthology of Ugo Mulas, in 1977 that of Nino Migliori, followed in 1979 by Luigi Ghirri, and Mario Giacomelli in 1980.

Over time, in addition to donations from individual photographers, the collection was enriched by important archives including Stefani, Orlandini, Villani, Publifoto, and Vasari, by nineteenth-century photography from daguerreotypes to albumen prints, and by scores of cameras and equipment.

There are currently over 300 collections, with more than 9,000,000 images from 1840 to the present.