Dear MoMA,

Your online Coursera course, Seeing Through Photographs, is satisfying every inch of nerdiness in me. Thank you.


You guys! I signed up for the course, as promised, and it is the real deal - homework and quizzes and all. I thought I would be able to get through one session per week and report back here, but since I have taken it upon myself to do all of the readings, not just the required ones, we’re going to have to space it out a bit more.

The reading list each week is pretty dense, but they have scanned in the texts, which is incredible. I did feel like quite the boss when I could just pull out my own copy of Beaumont Newhall’s The History of Photography from 1839 to the Present for the first reading. Of course, I have a lot of these books, since I’m really into scholarship (and a big dork).

Anyway, this reading focused on documentary photography, mostly it’s origins with Lewis Hine and the FSA photographers. I have learned about these photographers before, but I had not considered some of the things he talks about in terms of what it means for a photograph to be a document - used as evidence or proof. He says that before a photograph can be considered a document, it needs to be placed in time and space to give it context and an explanation, but that photographs also assert their independence - they are not illustrations - they carry the message together with the text. He describes documentary photography as having a “deep respect for fact coupled with the desire to create the basically subjective interpretation of the world we live in.”

Let that sink in while I show off my book.

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