In the 1980s the WAG identified photography as a specialized area of the collection.

Over the last two decades, the collection has grown to approximately 1,400 works representing mainly work by contemporary Canadian photographers working in the last half of the 20th century. These images range in subject matter and context, from landscapes to portraiture to social documentary critiques.

The collection includes work by such notable photographers as Isaac Applebaum, Roy Arden, David Buchan, Sorel Cohen, William Eakin, Evergon, Rosalie Favell, Eldon Garnet, April Hickox, Geoffrey James, Suzy Lake, John Massey, David McMillian, Sheila Spence, Ian Wallace, and Diana Thorneycroft. To strengthen the breadth of the collection, the Gallery has acquired works which are international and historical in scope, in particular the 180 photographs dating from 1914–981 by American-Hungarian André Kertész (considered to be the father of modern photography) that were donated in 1985.

The collection includes work by Diane Arbus, Irving Penn, Brassai, Henri Cartier-Bresson, Bill Brandt, Edward Steichen, and Lotte Jacobi. In 2005 the WAG received a significant donation of 40 photographs by Edward Burtynsky tracing the last 20 years of his creative production.

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