Online course: Seeing Through Photographs (part of the Long term online programme: Modern and Contemporary Art and Design)

Dates: any time

Duration: 17 hours

Rating: 4.8 / 5.0 out of 2302 ratings (see top rating courses here)

Participating countries: any country

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Organizer: The Museum of Modern Art at Coursera


  • FREE
  • $49 with sharable certificate

Seeing Through Photographs

Taking, sharing, and viewing photographs has become second nature for many of us. Given our near-constant engagement with images this course will help you dig into the meaning of pictures and reconsider photography’s role in our visual culture. This course aims to address the gap between seeing and truly understanding photographs by introducing a diversity of ideas, approaches, and technologies that inform their making.

In this course you will look closely at 100 photographs from the collection of The Museum of Modern Art, going behind the scenes of the Museum and into artist studios through original films and audio interviews. You will hear a variety of perspectives on the ways photography has been used throughout its 180-year history: as a means of artistic expression, a tool for science and exploration, an instrument of documentation, a way to tell stories and record histories, and a mode of communication and critique. Short texts and readings from MoMA publications provide enhanced context for the works in the course. By enrolling in this course, you’ll join a community of international learners in discussion forums, receive invitations to live and virtual events from our lead instructor Sarah Meister, and gain exclusive access to MoMA resources. UPDATE: We’ve been listening to your feedback! In September 2020, we launched new content in Seeing Through Photographs, including audio interviews with additional contemporary artists from around the world, videos of Sarah introducing key ideas, and almost doubling the number of photographs from the collection. We’ve also added opportunities for you to share and receive feedback on your photographs in the discussion forums.



WEEK 1: 1 hour to complete

Introduction to Seeing Through Photographs

Seeing Through Photographs
Sarah Meister Introduces the Course
Marvin Heiferman on “Photography Changes Everything”
Welcome to Seeing Through Photographs!

WEEK 2: 3 hours to complete

One Subject, Many Perspectives

Vik Muniz on Photographing the Familiar
Early Photographs of the Moon: Surface, Scale, and Technology
Eugène Atget. Pendant l’éclipse. 1912
Liz Deschenes on Tilt/Swing (360º field of vision, version 1), 2009
New Perspectives: Man on the Moon
U.S.G.S. and NASA, Surveyor III. Surface of the Moon, Day 319, W-F. 1967
Vernacular and Fine Art Photographs of the Moon
Ansel Adams. Moonrise, Hernandez, New Mexico. 1941

Introduction to This Week
Artistic Equivalents
Moons and Moonlight
Photographs by NASA
Who Does the Moon Belong To?
Moon Phases
Optional Discussion Prompts and Creative Challenges
Optional Readings and Resources

WEEK 3: 3 hours to complete

Documents and the Documentary

Sarah Meister on Documents and the Documentary
Zora J Murff on At No Point in Between, 2018–19
Mike Mandel on Evidence, 1974
Thomas Demand on Room (Zimmer), 1996
Dorothea Lange. Migrant Mother. 1936
Dorothea Lange. On the Road to Los Angeles, California. March 1937
Sarah Meister on Documentary Photography
Artist Spotlight: Dorothea Lange1
Artist Spotlight: Gordon Parks1
Arbus, Friedlander, and Winogrand
Optional Discussion Prompts and Creative Challenges
Optional Readings and Resources

WEEK 4: 3 hours to complete

One and Another

Sarah Meister on Photography and Multiplicit
Frances Benjamin Johnston. The Hampton Album. 1899-1900
Nicholas Nixon on The Brown Sisters, 1975–Present
Sohrab Hura on Snow, 2015–ongoing
Irina Rozovsky on Miracle Center, 2019–ongoing
Iñaki Bonillas on Marginalia, 2019–ongoing
Artwork Spotlight: Frances Benjamin Johnston’s The Hampton Album, 1899-19001
Photo Books
Photo Series
One from Many

WEEK 5: 3 hours to complete

Constructing Narratives, Challenging Histories
Hank Willis Thomas on the Role of Advertising Images
Carrie Mae Weems on From Here I Saw What Happened and I Cried, 1995–96
Walid Raad on My neck is thinner than a hair: Engines, 1996–2001
Harrell Fletcher on The American War, 2005
Iñaki Bonillas on Constructing Identities
Cindy Sherman. Untitled Film Stills. 1977–80
Dionne Lee on True North and AA O KK, 2019
David Alekhuogie on To Live and Die in LA, 2019
Artwork Spotlight: Hank Willis Thomas’s UNBRANDED series
Constructing History
Challenging History
Constructing Personal Narratives

WEEK 6: 3 hours to complete

Pictures of People

Katy Grannan on Taking Portraits
Susan Meiselas on Carnival Strippers, 1973–75
Akram Zaatari on After They Got the Right to Arms. Fourteen young men posing with guns, early 1970s/2006
Stephanie Syjuco on Cargo Cults, 2013–16
Tina Barney on Sunday New York Times, 1982
Deana Lawson on Roxie and Raquel, 2010
Maria Antelman on Hall of Mirrors, Self Stranger, and Puzzlers I and II, 2020
Artwork Spotlight: Katy Grannan’s Portrait
Exploring Agency
Performing Identity
Loved Ones

WEEK 7: 3 hours to complete

Ocean of Images
Sarah Meister on the Ocean of Images
Gertrudes Altschul. Lines and Tones. c. 1952
Robert Heinecken. Are You Rea. 1964–68
Martha Rosler on House Beautiful: Bringing the War Home, 1967–72
Carmen Winant on My Birth, 2018
Thomas Ruff on jpeg msh01, 2004
Anouk Kruithof on Subconscious Travelling, 2013
Lucas Blalock on Strawberries, 2014–15
David Horvitz on Mood Disorder, 2015
Özlem Altın on Topography (of time, of body), 2019
Before the Digital Wave
Appropriating Mass Media
Born Digital

Long term online programme: Modern and Contemporary Art and Design

This course is part of the Long term online programme: Modern and Contemporary Art and Design.

Name of the course Category Educator Price Duration (hours) Score Number of ratings
Fashion as Design
Fashion, Design, History
FREE 20 4.8 2302
Modern Art & Ideas
Fashion, Design, History, Art
FREE 14 4.8 5016
Seeing Through Photographs
Fashion, Design, History, Photography
FREE 17 4.8 3670
What Is Contemporary Art?
Fashion, Design, History, Art
FREE 12 4.7 1376