The history of the Museum Ludwig makes it clear that photography has always been considered an equally valid part of the collection. A first important step was the decision to create a photographic collection, the foundation for which was laid by the city of Cologne's acquisition of some 900 photographs from the Gruber Collection, with a donation of a further 200 works by the collectors. The important contribution of Russian constructivism was acknowledged by the Peter and Irene Ludwig Foundation as early as 1978, when they presented a large body of photographs and collages by Alexander Rodchenko to the Museum Ludwig as a permanent loan. Then, for the first time, it was possible to integrate photographic works in the history of photography and in the history of art, and comprehend their significance for both of these.
The fact that photography plays a central role in contemporary art could be demonstrated by works like those which the Museum Ludwig and the Peter and Irene Ludwig foundation acquired from the middle of the 1970s onwards together with films and videos by contemporary artists. Among them are works by Bruce Nauman, Douglas Huebler, Bernd und Hilla Becher, Jan Dibbets, Barry LeVa, and Gordon Matta-Clark, who represent important approaches to photography in contemporary art. At the same time, the diverse activities in the field of artistic photography in Cologne and the Rhineland are reflected in the collection. In 1978, for example, L. Fritz Gruber was instrumental in bringing Chargesheimer's estate to the Museum Ludwig. Works by Anna and Bernhard Blume, Astrid Klein and Jürgen Klauke are as much part of the collection as the Becher school with works by Candida Höfer, Thomas Struth, Andreas Gursky, and Thomas Ruff. The diversity of the art scene in the Rhineland since the 1960s is exemplified by the works of Benjamin Katz and Manfred Leve.
Since its foundation, the collection of photographic works has been continuously expanded, and since 2000 a systematic approach has been adopted. In the field of documentary photography, major bodies of works by Lee Friedlander, Robert Adams, William Eggleston, and Boris Mikhailov were deliberately purchased, photographers whose impact on modern art has long been neglected. In addition, it was possible to increase the collection's examples of photography of conceptual art and performance art since 1965, and of staged photography with works by, for example, Sanja Iveković, Stephen Willats and Christopher Williams.
Where Reinhold Misselbeck began building the collection in 1980 and maintained it until his unexpected death in 2001, today it is Barbara Engelbach who, after three years of Thomas Weski, is responsible for the department of photography after 1970 as curator of the collection of contemporary art.