The SOAS Picture Archive became an official collection in 1990, based on photographs and other visual media held by the School and the School photographer. It now consists of over 1,400 images in a range of formats, including prints, negatives, slides, postcards, mounted and framed prints, display boards and printed materials.
Exterior and interior views of the School of Oriental Studies, formerly the London Institution, at Finsbury Circus are available from its inception, including an engraving of the London Institution by Robert Wilkinson in 1820. A number of photographs record the preparation for and construction of the Philips Building, and the interior of SOAS Library from its first use to the present day is well-represented.
There are early groups of staff and students with the first two Directors, Sir Denison Ross and Sir Ralph Turner. During the 1930s to 1970s there are few images of students, although staff are better represented (particularly in the 1930s and 1950s), and some staff group photographs outside the Bloomsbury Building exist from the 1980s. Several key events at SOAS are pictured, including the inaugural event at Finsbury Circus in 1918, the official opening of the Philips Building and the opening of the Special Collections Reading Room, as well as a number of other events both social (such as Sir Cyril Philips' 80th birthday party) and academic.