Coronavirus News: 'Seeing Through Photographs' online course by MoMA

NEW YORK (WABC) -- The coronavirus pandemic has put New York City's cultural institutions to the test, as these non-profit organizations were forced to shut down along with so many businesses across the city.

But the Museum of Modern Art, known as MoMA, has responded to the challenge.

What is a museum without people to go inside? MoMA is finding answers to that question online, where a home study course has found new popularity.

"Since quarantine, we've seen enrollment increase exponentially," said Sarah Hermanson Meister, curator at the Robert B. Menschel Department of Photography. "Because at its heart, the course has always been about community. And right now, that's something that people want more than ever."

Seeing Through Photographs is not a new course, but now the curator has, "been inviting more people to connect with the course than ever before."

Seminars allow students to ask her questions and hear directly from photographers like Sally Mann, who believes photographs can "open doors into the past and allow a look into the future."

I logged onto YouTube one recent evening to find Mann and Meister discussing the work of Dorothea Lange, who was the focus of a major exhibit called Words & Pictures at MoMa before the museum had to close in early March.

"It was just devastating to think of all those photographs hanging in the galleries with the galleries darkened and just sitting there with no one to enjoy them," said Meister, who spent two years organizing the show. "The one thing you can never replicate is the experience of standing before the work of art."

But online learning can offer a greater perspective. For example, Lange's 1936 masterpiece "Migrant Mother, Nipomo, California" can be better understood by seeing the pictures she took directly beforehand.

Learners find there's a beautiful through-line from early photographers through to the work of artists like Deana Lawson. Those who take this course online come to realize that from adversity has come opportunity.

"To take something that we built and think, how do you expand that and make it more accessible to more people," Meister said.

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