The Library has an archive of photographs, which is considered to be one of the rarest collections in the world, including 8,100 original individual photographs and collections preserved in albums, taken by the most famous photographers of the East and the Arab region since the beginning of photography in 1740, in addition to pictures taken by travellers, ship captains, military personnel, envoys, consuls and politicians who visited the Arab region from the middle of the last century until the beginning of the current century. This historical archive of photos is one of the most unique sources in the world, preserving images of what the Arab world was like in the past.
Most of these pictures record important landmarks in the Kingdom, and religious places in Mecca and Medina, in addition to many pictures taken of historical sites in Arab capitals and cities. These images reflect the diverse forms of Arab social life and interactions, and provide a historical record of civil and architectural development in the region, showing their markets, mosques, roads and all aspects of life, in addition to another collection of pictures taken on important historical occasions of prominent political and social figures.
1- General Mohamed Sadik Pasha's Collection
Within its archives, the Library contains collections of rare pictures of the Kingdom, the Arabian Peninsula and the Arab World in general, including the first and most famous, the General Mohammed Sadiq Pasha Collection, which contains a distinctive picture of the two Holy Mosques in Mecca and Medina, of which three copies are available in the world. The first of these is owned by His Royal Highness Prince Sultan Bin Abdul-Aziz, who bought it in 1998, the second by the King Abdul-Aziz Public Library, and the third by the French Cultural Institute in Paris.
The library was a pioneer in adding this collection to its holdings, in addition to the four books of its former owner. The first is entitled A Booklet Exploring the Land Route across the Hijaz from Al-Wajh and Yanbu to Medina, and an explanation of its military map (1877). The second is entitled Shining a Torch on the Hajj Land Pilgrimage Route (1880). The third is The Guiding Star to the Hajj Pilgrimage by Land or Sea (1885). The fourth is the Hajj Guide for a Pilgrim coming to Mecca and Medina from Far and Wide (1885). These are very rare and important books, including information on the social and architectural state of the Hejaz during the latter half of the last century.
2- Cameraman Hajji Ahmad Marza’s Collection
The Library has rare collections that have not been put on display before. This includes the Collection of the world-renowned photographer Hajji Ahmad Marza, whose fame rivals that of the Egyptian photographer, Major-General Muhammad Sadiq Pasha.
3- Cameraman Ahmed Basha Helmi’s Collection
The Library has about 365 previously unpublished pictures of the two Holy Mosques with their negatives, taken by the international Egyptian photographer Ahmad Pasha Helmi, who was assigned by King Farouk to photograph the two Holy Mosques during the entrance of King Abdul-Aziz to Mecca, and during his visit to Medina. In addition, there is a collection of albums containing pictures depicting the Hejaz Railway Line, some areas of the Kingdom, as well as a very rare album depicting an important political event during the unification of Saudi Arabia.
4- Photographer Humberto da Silveira's Collection
The library obtained a collection of 165 old photographs belonging to the world-class Brazilian photographer Humberto da Silveira while travelling in the Kingdom over a period of twelve years, which he spent taking photographs and produced a collection documenting historical places in the Kingdom. The images are important in that they help to give upcoming generations a visual introduction to their history, and the customs prevailing in the Kingdom during the last few decades. The photographs were included in two books, entitled Najd and Bedouins. This collection also received considerable international attention when the photographer put them on display in two major international exhibitions: The Arab World Institute Exhibition in Paris and the Elysée Museum in Lausanne. Since then, it has featured in successive exhibitions put on by the Library both at home and abroad.