The Ratner Center's photograph collection consists of more than six thousand photographs dating from the late nineteenth century to the present. Most are 8 x 10" black and white prints, but some unusual or historical formats such as cartes de visite, cabinet cards, and panoramic photographs are included.
Most of the photographs are of JTS people, buildings, and events, particularly from the 1940s to the 1960s. Included are portraits of JTS presidents and faculty members, including Sabato Morais, Solomon Schechter, Cyrus Adler, Louis Finkelstein, Gerson Cohen, Alexander Marx, Louis Ginzberg, Israel Davidson, Israel Friedlaender, Mordecai Kaplan, Saul Lieberman, and Abraham Joshua Heschel. The many commencement scenes show generations of students (1890s–1970s)—including students from the teacher training department, the Teachers Institute—receiving degrees, posing with their classes, and walking in academic processions. There are also interior and exterior shots of JTS's present and former buildings in the Morningside Heights section of Manhattan.
Distinguished visitors to JTS, including Leo Baeck, David Ben Gurion, Herbert Lehman (who was chairman of the board of overseers), Golda Meir, Eleanor Roosevelt, Harry Truman, Earl Warren, and others, are shown at commencements, convocations, and other events. Photographs of institutions related to JTS, including The Jewish Museum and The Eternal Light radio program are included.
Of particular note is a large group (nearly one thousand) photographs taken at JTS's two interfaith programs, the Institute for Religious and Social Studies (today the Louis Finkelstein Institute for Religious and Social Studies), and the Conference on Science, Philosophy, and Religion, founded in 1938 and 1940 respectively. These were taken in the 1940s, 1950s, and 1960s, and consist largely of pictures of participants at meetings. Those pictured include Louis Finkelstein (who directed the two programs), Jessica Feingold (who administered the Intergroup Relations department at JTS), William F. Albright, Ben Zion Bokser, Lyman Bryson, Harlan Cleveland, Clarence H. Faust, Charles S. Johnson, John La Farge, Harold D. Lasswell, Alain Locke, Robert M. MacIver, Richard P. McKeon, Margaret Mead, Reinhold Niebuhr, Harlow Shapley, and others.
While the bulk of the photograph collection documents JTS or JTS-related events, the collection also includes photographs documenting Conservative Jewish synagogue life in the United States, 1890s–1990s. Included are interiors and exteriors of synagogue buildings, portraits of congregants, Hebrew school scenes, synagogue holiday celebrations, and portraits of rabbis. Of particular note is a large group of photographs taken at the Brooklyn Jewish Center in the 1920s, documenting both the pious and playful sides of this early "synagogue center."