John Kobal established the Foundation in 1990 to advance the study and exhibition of photography, especially as it related to portraits. At his death in October 1991, The John Kobal Foundation received his collection of original 8x10 photographic negatives and fine art prints produced by the Hollywood studio photographers. From the start the Foundation has made grants, supported exhibitions and promoted the study of classic Hollywood through the publication of many books.


Partnering with the National Portrait Gallery (London), the Foundation sponsored the John Kobal Photographic Portrait Award for ten years from 1993 until 2003. The related exhibition of the finest portrait photographs by contemporary photographers was a popular success, and it soon became the most prestigious award devoted to portrait photography in the United Kingdom.


Today the Foundation primarily funds the commission of works by early-career photographers. Through the John Kobal New Work Awards, which are part of the annual Taylor Wessing Awards, it sponsors a commission through which a photographer under thirty is engaged to shoot a portrait, for the NPG, of an emerging talent in the British film or television industry. The Foundation is also one of the sponsors of the annual National Media Museum First Book Award, part of the Kraszna-Krausz Book Awards, which (in partnership with MACK) supports the publication of a book by a previously unpublished photographer. It is also a sponsor of Photo London and provides funding for a residency in New York for an emerging photographer.