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Online Course

Seeing Through Photographs

The Museum of Modern Art via Coursera

  • Provider Coursera
  • Cost Free Online Course (Audit)
  • Session Upcoming
  • Language English
  • Certificate Paid Certificate Available
  • Duration 6 weeks long
  • Learn more about MOOCs

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Although taking, sharing, and viewing photographs has become second nature for many of us, our regular engagement with images does not necessarily make us visually literate. 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 photographs from the collection of The Museum of Modern Art and hear a variety of perspectives on what a photograph is and the ways that photography has been used throughout its nearly 180 year history: as a means of artistic expression, as a tool for science and exploration; as an instrument of documentation; to tell stories and record histories; and as a mode of communication and critique in our ever increasingly visual culture.

Learning Objectives

• Develop skills to better examine and understand the differences between photographs and photographic images.
• Discover how context influences the production, circulation, and reception of photographic images.
• Learn about different modes of artistic and technological experimentation and innovation in photography.
• Investigate photography’s role in our increasingly visual culture.


Introduction to Seeing Through Photographs
-“Photography is a foreign language everyone thinks he speaks.”—Philip-Lorca di Corcia

One Subject, Many Perspectives
-Discover photography's roots in both art and science by observing the diverse ways the medium has been used across time to capture a single subject familiar to us all.

Documentary Photography
-Explore a variety of approaches to documentary photography, from those that aim to produce objective records to those that critique the reliability of photographs as evidence.

Pictures of People
-Examine pictures of people—as individuals or as representatives of a type, posed or captured unaware—and discover how the choices made by both photographer and subject inform our assumptions about those depicted.

Constructing Narratives & Challenging Histories
-Learn to look critically at the way photographs have been used to construct narratives that shape our understanding of ourselves and the world around us.

Ocean of Images: Photography & Contemporary Culture
-Many artists are turning to our image-saturated world as both a source for and subject of their work. Explore how they examine—and frequently disrupt—current methods of image production, presentation, and circulation.

Ocean of Images: Photography & Contemporary Culture: Lesson Choices

Taught by

Sarah Meister

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Reviews for Coursera's Seeing Through Photographs Based on 4 reviews

  • 5 star 25%
  • 4 star 25%
  • 3 stars 50%
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  • 1
Anonymous completed this course.
This is a thoroughly enjoyable course, firstly because of the well-curated material (variety of short videos each covering a theme from a different perspective), lectures, live material (Sarah Meister, the course leader, does live sessions, Q&As and other material monthly or even more often).

The additional recommended reading is really what deepens the critical understanding from the themes covered each week. Whilst it's possible to enjoy it and learn by watching only the course material, the recommended reading (which is lots & lengthy) is actually enlightening.

If you just want to learn a bit more of what you should look for in photographs, you can do the course without the additional reading.

If you truly want to start understanding photography and get a solid base, from an art history and social perspective, really put effort into the discussions, the tasks, the readings and do additional research. You will thoroughly enjoy it.
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Anna D
Anna completed this course, spending 2 hours a week on it and found the course difficulty to be very easy.
The course offered various perspectives on photography by focusing on different themes and displaying various artworks. It dwelled into certain specifics of the photography history but overall covered a small portion of it. The assignments were repetitive and basically forced you to review every small detail instead of looking at the bigger picture. I hoped for the assignments to be more interactive and pleasant.
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Pietro C
by Pietro completed this course.
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Cindy B
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