LIVE Q&A with MoMA Photography Curator Sarah Meister (May 23)

LIVE Q&A with MoMA Photography Curator Sarah Meister (May 23)


Hi, I’m Sarah Meister. I’m a curator here in the Department of Photography
at MoMA and we’re thrilled to be bringing you a live Q&A on MoMA’s YouTube channel. We are gonna begin here on the collection
storage while people get settled. This is where we store a huge percentage of
our collection. And we thought it’d be fun to pull some photographs
to show you a few before we get going with the real Q&A. And while we do that, I’ll not only try to
answer a few of the questions not formally, but a little informally, starting with, say,
show me a surprise, something that’s a little lesser known treasure
in the collection. So we also thought it would be a nice thing
to show you how we store the photographs, why we store the photographs, and to share
a bit of our best practices. So most of the collections are in cabinets
like this. It keeps the water off. If the sprinklers go, that would be bad. It keeps them nice and cold. And we keep them in boxes, usually whenever
we can, unless they’re too big. So here’s a box that has some works that we
acquired a little more than a year ago. We try not to carry the boxes long distances,
so we don’t risk dropping them, because that would be terrible. And then when we open them, these are all
archival materials. We try to keep everything sort of neat and
calm. We try when we’re handling photographs to
like focus on the photograph and not focus on, say, talking to you all. So we don’t damage anything. So this is a box of works by a Brazilian photographer
named Gertrudes Altschul. She’s one of my current favorites, although
I can’t say all time, because that’s just not fair. And the one I thought I would show you is
here on the bottom. It’s a photograph of a papaya leaf. It’s pretty awesome. What I love about it is that it looks a little
bit like a photogram, almost like you could see through it. Like she was squishing it flat onto the paper. Except that when you see the stem, you realize
that this is actually like a three-dimensional object in front of the camera. So I like this one a lot. This is a little bit of a surprise. It was on view last year if you came to New
York in a show that my colleague Starr and I organized called “Making Space: Women Artists and Post War
Abstraction.” But other than that, I’m sure no one had…well,
unless you lived in Sao Paolo, you had not seen it before. So this is how we keep them. This is fortunately not too heavy, some of
them get really heavy, and then we have to have a colleague come help us take them down
off the shelf. Okay. So this is not the official Q&A, but we thought
we’d answer a few questions while we’re in here anyway. The first question, unofficially, is from
Victoria on Instagram and Danny on YouTube, who both asked, basically, “What is the temperature in there and why? Or why is the collection storage space so
cold?” So it’s about 50 degrees in here, 40% relative
humidity. And yesterday when I was getting ready for
this, I asked our conservator. I was like, “How do I describe why it’s so
cold?” And her answer was…I was thinking she was
gonna give me some complicated chemical or something. She’s like, “Everything goes more slowly when
it’s cold.” And so if you think of the photographs having
active particles in them, the more you slow it down, the longer they live. So this is true for color photographs, especially,
but also for gelatin silver prints, like most of what we’ll be looking at today. So it’s cold to keep everything lasting as
long as possible. And that’s also why we use archival materials. I just washed my hands. So if you see me handling a lot of things,
I wouldn’t do that unless I had just washed my hands. So that’s question number one. We have another question that says…and this
is from Chris on Instagram. And he writes, “What is your collection policy? And Alfred Stieglitz, please.” So excellent choice, Alfred. No, Alfred Stieglitz. Excellent choice, Chris. I pulled a few extra, a little bit like a
cooking show because sometimes if you have to take them down, we have to go too far and
it takes too long. So I pulled three other photographs, including
the Stieglitz just to show while we’re here in collection storage getting warmed up. The first one of these, I mean, I’ll say,
everything I’m showing, I love all these photographs, but this one is pretty great. Now you’ll see there’s a little bit of a reflective
surface on this, and I’ll lift it off to make it easier to see. This is called Mylar. It protects the surface of the picture in
storage and we actually attach it with tape at the top, but it’s a special low tack tape. So this is a photograph by Berenice Abbott
and it’s called “New York at Night.” She made it in 1932 right after the Empire
State Building opened. And she made it on one of the shortest days
of the year, so in sort of mid to late December. And she did that because she wanted the city
to be dark, but she wanted everyone to still be in their
offices so that all the thousands and thousands of office lights are on. So it’s almost like you couldn’t make this
picture in the summer because it would be light too late. And by the time was dark, everybody would
be gone home for the day. I hope. So this is a terrific one and I can’t remember
who but somebody definitely wanted to see Berenice Abbott. So that’s one. And then, you know, again, like I was saying,
you just wanna handle them carefully, slowly because, of course, the worst thing
you could ever do to a photograph is damage it. That would just be the worst. The next photograph I wanted to show you,
again, thanks to Chris asking for Alfred Stieglitz, “this terrific image of Stieglitz’s made?” I’m just gonna do this because Stieglitz really…although
Berenice Abbott was a little more forgiving about the presentation, Stieglitz was very
precise. So here’s a photograph he made of his wife
Georgia O’Keeffe and her car. And what I love about this one. This is at his house in Lake George. And to me, he’s very well known for the group
of portraits that he made of Georgia O’Keeffe. But to me, this is sort of a symbol of her
independence, how by 1935 she was definitely a mature artist in her own right, had much
more of a sense of autonomy. And I think there’s something almost sort
of wistful about this thinking of her hopping in the car, and maybe going back to New York
City. And so even though the photograph is so beautiful,
and you’d see the sky reflected on the paint finish it still makes me think there must have been
something about this car that made him feel a little wistful or makes me feel wistful,
please. So, again, the other thing I try not to do
is to actually, and this is super easy to do at home, don’t talk over your photos, because everybody
spits when they talk. And especially if you’re standing right over
it, you should be careful. Because spit is not a good friend to photographs
as you might imagine. All right. And then the last one I pulled for us to look
at today is this huge, beautiful print. Well, kind of gritty, maybe beautiful is the
wrong word. I’m gonna leave the Mylar on it because it’s
too complicated to take this one off. This is by a photographer named Gordon Parks,
and it’s from a photo story that he did for “Life Magazine” called “The Atmosphere of
Crime” in 1957. It’s actually, I learned more recently, a
color photograph. But it was super difficult to print in color
back in the 1950s. It was very expensive. So even though in the magazine, a lot of his
photographs are reproduced in color, the print we own that we acquired from Gordon Parks
is actually in black and white. And so it’s something I think is really interesting
to think about, like, what makes photographers make the choices they do? And sometimes it can be an incredibly practical
thing. Like, it’s way too expensive to make a color
photograph in the ’50s. So instead, you kind of heighten the graphic
quality and you make it in black and white. So I also thought it would be fun while we’re
here to look for one last picture, to look at a recent acquisition. And these are…if we’d been here a week ago, I wouldn’t be able to show this to you because
it would have been a secret because our committee on photography wouldn’t have approved it yet, but now it’s all approved so I can show you. So we saw a few things framed and these are
the framed ones, but sometimes something so big, it’s here only temporarily like for an
acquisitions meeting. Super careful. Now, for those of you at home, this is not
part of the photograph, this is just a string to make sure it doesn’t fall off. That would be terrible. But this is an incredible photograph by Deana
Lawson that was in her exhibition, not that long ago at Sikkema Jenkins. It’s really an incredibly powerful and, you
know, even bordering on scary photograph. And I love also that a new aspect of her work
is she has included the sort of image that’s affixed to the outside of the Plexiglas, so
this is a new aspect of her work. She was actually honored last night as one
of the honorees at the Gordon Parks Foundation Gala. So that was nice to see her and celebrate
her there. And I thought to myself, “And we just acquired
it.” So let’s get out of here. It’s cold. I’m sure there are enough people. We’ll go do a real Q&A in the study center. Thanks for joining me. All right. Here we are in Collection…no, now we’re
out of Collection Storage. My hands are cold, my face is cold, but we
are going to have fun out here. I have a whole pile of questions to answer. We got so many great ones from the trailer,
both on Instagram and on YouTube. We picked some of my favorites. And I’ll apologize in advance that we won’t
get to do everyone’s, but we’ll really do our best. If you have any other questions, we’re also
gonna try to work in some questions that are submitted live. So there’s a little live chat section. And I have some colleagues here who are gonna
write down your questions and give them to me, and then we’ll try to answer those as
well. All right, let’s get to the questions. Okay. The first one is from Anastasia from YouTube
and she writes, “What aspect of the work should we focus on first, when we visit a photography
exhibition?” And I think that’s such an excellent question. It’s like, what do you think about? You walk in, let’s say, you don’t know the
work, what are you gonna look at? How are you going to think about it? I like to see an exhibition…at first, I
like to just look at the work. So you try to do sort of a sweep through and
you think to yourself, “Let’s look at what this artist is doing. What are they doing in terms of scale, what
are they doing in terms of subject matter? Do there seem to be important things about
the materiality of what they’re doing?” And you kind of just get a general feel. If I’m at a gallery or at a museum, then I
usually go up and I try to read the wall text. I would recommend not doing that first because
it kind of opens up a little bit more what your experience can be, if you’ve had a little
time with the art first. And then after that, chances are, I’ll go
back again and maybe the second time around, you pick fewer pictures, but you just dive
in a little deeper. When I go with my children, I call it a surgical
strike. So with them, I might skip the first and the
second parts and just say, “Okay, we’re gonna look closely at three pictures. And that’s it.” And, you know, that can be a really rewarding
thing, too, is just sort of slowing down enough to look at just a couple of things. But that’s an excellent question. Thank you. Carrying on. Okay, Mac J. on Instagram wrote, “Are there
specific steps one can take to become a curator of photography?” Another good question. I would say, yes, there are typical ones and
then there are less typical ones. The typical one might be an art history major
in college. And then you might try to get some practical
work experience. So let’s say you go work in a gallery, or
an auction house or a museum and you try to sort of get some experience working with real
works of art. And then most photography curators go to graduate
school. I happen to be an exception to that, but it’s,
particularly this day and age, much, much more common. So I would say it’s a combination of school,
work experience. And then the nice thing is, and the way I
feel here at MoMA is like, your learning goes on and on. So although I’m not specifically in school
anymore, I always try to go see as much art as I can. I try to read a lot. I try to have conversations with my colleagues
to try to understand the way they see things. And traveling is also a really wonderful way
if you’re able to, to try to understand how people see things
and do things differently in other parts of the world, which can be hard, but that’s optimal if you
can do that. We’re okay? All right. So A. Wiedler wrote on Instagram, “I love
Helen Levitt’s work and saw some online at MoMA’s website.” So guess what, we pulled one. I love Helen Levitt too. The first one we pulled is this, one of Helen
Levitt’s most famous images. And this photograph was actually…came into
the collection in… well, officially accessioned in 1941, but
it was a photograph of Helen Levitt that she made in 1940 on the streets of New York. So you have to imagine that’s a super short
time. It’s actually not…unlike the Deana Lawson,
where it’s a recent work and we’re just acquiring it, that happens less frequently, I would say,
than sometimes a little more time passing. But so Helen Levitt made this photograph in
1940, in December of 1940. We actually exhibited it here at MoMA in the
first exhibit of the formal department of photography. Oh, I forgot to mention that. So we have a Department of Photography and
we have had a Department of Photography ever since December 1940. The museum started in 1929, so the museum
was just 11 years old when we established a department of photography. And it was a great moment and the show that
they organized was called “Sixty Photographs: A Survey of Camera Esthetics.” So it was setting forward that photography
was an art form with its own set of aesthetic concerns. And this actual print, not just this image,
but this actual print was included in that exhibit. And one of the things I love is that now on
MoMA’s website, you can actually go on to the exhibition history
and see images of this picture on the walls at MoMA, which is really cool. So sorry, to turn to the question, “What qualifies an artwork to be on the website
as opposed to an exhibition at the museum, who, and, most importantly, what makes that decision or difference?” So there’s a super practical question really
about the website, which is that for us to put something on the website, it has to have an image and we generally try
to have permission from the artist or to have it be copyright free. So that’s how it gets on the website. To be in an exhibition requires more deliberation
usually…no, actually almost exclusively on the part of the curators. So the curator say, “I really wanna put this
work on view. I’m gonna put it on in view in this context.” So this one, for instance, when they said,
I want to pick “Sixty Photographs” that represent camera aesthetics for MoMA’s public in 1940. So that’s how that happens. I’m gonna answer a live question now. This one just came in. Okay. This is from Alexander on YouTube. “Does MoMA archive a digital copy of all those
photographs?” Super great question. And the answer is, yes, really. Whenever we get a new acquisition, and we
also work backwards to make sure we have an image of everything that’s old, we make a digital copy with our…we have
a great photo studio and they make an image. It’s the sort of digital version of what we
used to have in doing an analog way, which was we had a copy negative of every work in
the collection. And we use those digital copies to make reproductions
in books and to share if somebody requests them from us. So, yes, we really, really try. Sometimes if it’s a work that’s super big
and super complicated to install, until we install it for the first time, we
might ask for an image from a gallery or from an artist, but we really prefer and try to make them
all our own. One more from YouTube before I go back to
some of the ones that came earlier. “Does MoMA…” and this is from Daphne, also
through YouTube. Oh, I guess they’re all through YouTube now. Okay. If it’s a new one, it’s from YouTube. “Does MoMA collect Polaroids?” And the answer is, absolutely yes. Our conservator calls them internal dye diffusion
transfer prints because we try to not use brand names. We try to refer to the actual chemical process. But really, it’s a Polaroid and actually we’ve…our
compromises that we call it an internal dye diffusion transfer print (Polaroid). So, yes, we do. The reason we didn’t pull any of those is
that we keep those in a super cold part of the storage that to take them out of there
you have to let them acclimatize overnight, and we really try to do that only when we
really need to. We have plenty of other stuff to show you
today. All right. Another one on YouTube. This one’s from Nicholas. “Is forgery ever an issue…” Wow, great question. “Is forgery ever an issue in photography,
the same way it is in painting? Why?” Yes, it is. There have been some really fascinating forgery
stories in the history of photography. And well, I would say, I don’t wanna…oh,
shame it…you know, the thing is photography is a reproducible medium so that carries with
it a whole host of complications. And this is not to say that people can’t detect
forgeries, and they can, but actually, the thing that has helped photography for
most of its history is that photographs were never really worth that much. So if it wasn’t worth that much, who would
bother to make a forgery? A little bit later, we’re gonna talk about
Dorothea Lange. And when we do, we’ll get to the idea of an
original and a copy, which is not the same thing as a forgery. But certainly, forgery can be an issue. I don’t want to out anyone though on YouTube. That doesn’t seem nice. Okay. One more from the live ones and then we’ll
go back to some of the earlier questions. This is from Katherine Ellington. Oh, and I’m hoping I’m allowed to say this. Katherine is a mentor in our course, online
Coursera, seeing through photographs, which means that she helps sort of lead group discussions
and things like that. So thanks, Katherine. So, Katherine asks, “How do you decide on
frames for photographs?” That is a really good question and it’s something
that I actually…it takes a while to learn how to pick the right frame for a photograph. The way I learned how to do it was to spend
a lot of time looking, of course, and listening to Peter Perez in our frame shop. He is the foreman of our frame shop and he
is just brilliant. So he helps me think through, will this picture
look better in a dark frame or with a light frame, with a walnut frame, or a metal frame? And you want a frame that sort of helps you
focus on the work. But you may have noticed when we were in storage,
we looked at that Deana Lawson picture, she picked a frame that has this gilded front. So sometimes artists pick their own frames. And in that case, we respect that and we really
just try to take care of those frames carefully. But certainly, how we decide to frame things,
you may not even notice when you come to the museum. In fact, we hope you don’t notice the frames
when you come to the museum. We want you to look at the photographs, but
we do try to make selections about those frames that help you focus on those. If we had all different frames in all different
ways, it might be confusing and might not help the art look as good as it can look. Okay. Back to some other questions. Oh, this was a tough one, but I decided I
wanted to answer it anyway. This is from Bill Gubbins on YouTube, and
he wrote, “In the ’80s, MoMA photo curator, John Szarkowski called Garry Winogrand, ‘The
central photographer of his generation. ‘Who do you believe is the central photographer
of the current generation?” And people ask me this a lot. And I’m not being lazy when I say, I think
the world today has reached a point where it doesn’t really make sense to think of a
central photographer of a generation. They’re too many really great artists working
in too many different paths to conceive of themselves as essentially as a generation
of artists. And so every time we organized a photography
show that features a lot of the photographers who we think are important and doing new work. And certainly, if you look at the artists
where we do a one-person show, we have a Stephen Shore retrospective on right now on view on
the third floor. These are certainly central figures of their
generations. But we really…I don’t know. I don’t like to answer that question in the
singular, so, sorry to answer your question with not an answer, but there you have it. Oh, here’s a good one. So this is from Instagram, and Jane Mordini
writes, “Doesn’t WPA…” and by that I think she is referring to the Works Progress Administration
and/or the government. “Doesn’t WPA own Dorothea Lange photos? How can you make copies?” So this is super interesting. I’m gonna put away our Helen Levitt and I’m
gonna take out some Dorothea Lange photographs. So the first one is Lange’s iconic “Migrant
Mother.” And yes, Lange made this photograph while
working for the U.S. Government. She was actually working for the Resettlement
Administration in 1935, which became the Farm Security Administration in 1937. But if you just think of it as the alphabet
soup of government planning under FDR, she was one of those. And the WPA was also one. So yes, Dorothea Lange made this photograph
while working for the government, which means that it has always been throughout
its life available for anyone to use with no copyright restrictions whatsoever. And in fact, if you go on to the Library of
Congress’s website today, you can download a file made from this negative and print your
own. And there’s nothing wrong with that. It’s not illegal. It’s not a forgery. It’s just what it is. Now, I happen to be writing a book about Dorothea
Lange’s “Migrant Mother,” so stay tuned, it’ll come out this fall. And there was another question. Yeah, this is from Lou on Instagram, who writes,
“What is the airbrush technique? And how can you recognize it on a picture?” So, Lou, we thought it would be interesting
to pull together not only a classic very early print of Lange’s “Migrant Mother.” This is one that came into the collection,
probably in 1949, so it’s not one of the earliest prints, but it’s an early print. And I thought it might be interesting to look
at this one next to this. So this is a print of Lange’s “Migrant Mother”
that came to us from the “New York Times.” It has heavy, heavy airbrushing on it. So if you look, for instance, you see…and
the way you can tell airbrush is, unlike up here where you can see that the paint has
been like wash, like painted on. You can kind of see the brushstrokes in it. When you have airbrushing, it’s a super even
look. And when you look at it under a microscope,
you can actually see the little, little dots from the way that the paint has spat on to
the surface of the picture. But it makes for a much more dramatic contrast. So when you paint in the dark parts, like
the spaces between their fingers, and then you airbrush other parts to make
it look smoother, you can see how, if you were reproducing this in a newspaper,
let’s say, how this photograph would reproduce much more cleanly than this. And, since I sort of promised we would do
this, we…and remember I said I washed my hands, so if our conservator is watching,
I promise I did. The other thing that’s great about this photograph,
if we take it out, is that on the back…now, of course, I’m being so special with this. You understand that before this photograph
came to MoMA, thousands of people probably held it with the dirtiest hands you can imagine. It was circulated. Every one of these stamps on the back suggested
or tells a time when it was reproduced in the “New York Times.” So the earliest one that I found is here,
July 26th, 1936, and that is the earliest. But it actually was reproduced up through
1976. That’s the most recent stamp. So this is a photograph that even though now
that it’s here at MoMA, we treat it super precious and we’re taking very good care of
it. It lived a long very active life in the “New
York Times” photo morgue before it came here, and it’s a really good example of a lot of
retouching and airbrushing on a photograph. So put that back carefully. We also have a preparator in our department
who helps us make these things like these little very a special origami-like photo corners. And that’s because one of the principles of
how we store the collection is that we try to make everything as reversible as possible. So we try whenever we do anything to a photograph
to allow it to be undone. We try not to hinge it whenever we can. We use photo corners instead. And so those are decisions that you can make
with your own photographs. Like if you put a lot of tape on the back
of your picture, if you ever have to remove that tape, you are gonna have problems. So keep that in mind. All right, I’m gonna keep going. Oh, this is a super complicated question,
but I really liked it. This is from Ken on YouTube, Ken Spencer. And he wrote, “I have never understood the
reasoning or logic behind the photographer, Sherrie Levine, who has made outright copies of the work of
Walker Evans and then displays the prints as her own with a credit line like this, ‘Sherry Levine: After Walker Evans.’ As a professional photographer all my life,
this seems like an outright copyright violation. What am I not understanding here?” So, Ken, you are really getting to the heart
of it. So let’s dig in. We talked a little bit about forgeries. Hold on. This one is safe. We talked a little bit about forgeries, and
we talked about how you can make a Dorothea Lange picture yourself, which is not a forgery,
just by downloading the file. But I thought what we’ll do is actually show
you a Sherrie Levine. And MoMA doesn’t own the series that you were
talking about “Sherrie Levine: After Walker Evans,” but we do own this “After Rodchenko.” So the “After Walker Evans” pictures were
from like 1981. These were from a few years later, maybe 1987
I think. But it’s really interesting when you get the
opportunity to see them both up close and together. So I wonder if I can fit these both. I’m gonna hold on to this one. Okay, so this is a Sherrie Levine and this
is an Alexander Rodchenko. Now if you look at the Rodchenko up close,
I’m gonna open the mat, it’s a super delicate picture. This is a photograph of his mother. And you see the little inscription below. It’s attached asymmetrically to this beautiful
old mat. It’s a beautiful, it’s sort of a tender poignant
picture of his mother struggling to read holding the glasses up to her eye. And then you look at it next to the “Sherrie
Levine: After Rodchenko.” Well, there are a couple things you’ll notice
immediately. One is that it’s reversed. So Sherrie Levine is making her photographs
from reproductions of those photographs. And she is not trying to make you think…well,
she isn’t trying to make you think that it’s a Rodchenko. She wants you to be able to recognize the
image, but she’s really poking at the question of, like, what’s an original and what’s a
copy, have originals historically favored reputations
of male artists, where the idea of multiplicity of lack of
originality might be something new that she and artists
of her generation in the ’80s were exploring. And so she’s not trying to imitate the tonality,
and she often includes little cues that help you understand that what she’s making isn’t
the same as the original. It’s her version of it. So it is a really complex question. There was an artist, not that long ago who
actually made copies of Sherrie Levine’s photographs. I think, if you google it, you’ll find it. Adding another layer to this idea of what’s
considered appropriation. And it is perfectly permissible to appropriate
work in pursuit of making another work of art. And so this fall pretty squarely into that
category, which is why they’re okay. So, close it up. Okay. So, excuse me. I’m sure I’m going to butcher this name. I’m sure I’ve butchered other ones earlier,
apologies. But on YouTube Chirag Wakaskar wrote, “Is
there an effort by MoMA curators to have a more diverse group of photographers archive?” By which I understand you mean in the collection. And yes, absolutely. We pursue this through a lot of different. And this is not just unique to my photography
colleagues, these are my colleagues from all different departments. So we definitely want to have the collection
represent the diversity of artistic production. And that means having photographers of different
genders, of different races, from different places, from different times. Because the idea is that, well, how much more
of an interesting reflection of not only our time, but of historical times, if we can understand
a more diverse area of practice. So I’m actually going to Cuba tomorrow. We have these wonderful research groups at
the museum that are called C-MAP, Contemporary and Modern Art Perspectives. And what those C-MAP groups do is to try to
help MoMA curators develop a deep familiarity with artistic practices that might be less well known in the U.S.
and in Western Europe, and to try and say, “How can we really better
understand what’s happening in Latin America, in Asia, in Central and Eastern Europe, in
Africa?” And these are, you know, partly why I feel
so lucky to be a MoMA curator, is that parts of our job is to try to develop
that expertise and we’re given incredible tools to do that. So yes, diversity is an important thing for
MoMA curators and it’s also an important thing all the way up to the director and our trustees. They’re the ones who really make all of that
research and study possible. Good question. Oh, okay. So Matt Spaul wrote on YouTube. “I’ve read that Man Ray made photograms without
a camera. How was this done? Does MoMA have any examples in the collection?” Oh, do we? So I’ll put away this Rodchenko. We are so lucky that in 1941, a collector
named James Thrall Soby gave to the museum a group of photographs by Man Ray. Now, by the way, I was talking about how we
store them before. This is a good example of when we’re really,
really, really being careful. So this one has not only Mylar, that’s that,
but it also has a sheet of what we call photo text, because these are super fragile and
a photogram means that it’s unique. So take down the Mylar, remove the photo text. I’ll leave this open like this. So yes, when Man…and I’m gonna actually
talk behind it, because God forbid, I should spit on that photograph. So, Man Ray, when he made these photograms. This is a unique contact print, which means
that he took little glass stoppers from maybe crystal bottles and a little bit of gauze and a little piece of wire that he put in
a cube and two other things that I can’t quite figure out what they are, but he placed all of those things directly
onto a piece of photographic paper and then he turned on the light, and then turned off
the light. And in that exposure, anywhere where the light
could get through to the paper, it became dark. And anywhere the light was blocked, it remained
white. So this is something that’s opaque. This is sort of semitransparent, like the
glass. And then the black was where the light shone
straight through. So, yes, the photograms actually are unique,
and they are not made with a camera, which is partly why they’re so precious and we wanna
take care of them. And thanks to James Thrall Soby, when these
group of pictures came to the collection in 1941, these were the pictures that were used as
the plate, most of them, for the plates in a book that Man Ray published right around
that time. Well, actually, the book was from ’32…actually
’34. But anyway, it doesn’t matter. They are really special things and we feel
very lucky to have them in the collection. Thank you, James Thrall Soby. Moving on. Okay. So this is from Instagram, somebody whose
name couldn’t be this, but we’ll answer it anyway, from Optoomistic writes, “Please discuss in detail your preservation
best practices and procedures.” So we’ve been talking about that a little
bit all day basis. Basically, the preservation is like, you wanna
be sure to have your hands clean, you wanna be sure to try to have archival
materials around the photographs whenever possible, you wanna keep them as cold as possible, and
to not have your humidity fluctuate greatly. So that’s what our collection storage does. You know, it’s an ongoing effort. If you’re trying to do this at home, certainly
not having your photographs in direct sunlight is a really good place to start. And then every other little step that you
can do to preserve your photographs, you know, we all want them to live a long
time, whether it’s a family photograph or something in MoMA’s collection. So I hope that’s detailed enough. It’s probably not. But actually, we could do a whole other session, maybe I should suggest this on photography
conservation because we have lots of great colleagues in conservation who can help us
do that. Okay, well, this is a little similar. This is from Mury Hamilton, Mury, also on
Instagram. Oh, I’m gonna answer Mury’s because it’s actually
related. And then I see there’s a whole pile of other
ones that a magic little birdie, namely our producer brought to me. But Mury wrote, “What are some restoration
challenges with the photographs you have in your collection? And/or what are the common restoration practices?” So some of the challenges have to do with
physical damage to the print like cracking and things like that, edge damage. And to help address those, we definitely try
to store them carefully. Our conservators can actually rework things,
reinforce things pretty magically. You know, but the one thing that we really
can’t do is when like a color photograph fades. That’s pretty much it. So that’s why we try to store everything so
cold in Collection Storage. So we’re working on trying to share what we
call our conservation practices, our storage practices more broadly, because the truth is, we don’t wanna just
hoard that information for ourselves. We want everyone to know it. So now I’m triply convinced that we should
do a conservation session. This is a live question from Kathy and Lim
on YouTube. And she wrote, “What is the percentage of
film versus digital prints collected by MoMA?” It’s a terrific question and it’s ever more
important today. So I would say the thing you have to keep
in mind is that digital prints didn’t exist until, say, the last 20 years. So before then every photograph we have before
the mid-’90s is not a digital print. So by the numbers, the percentage of digital
prints is quite small. But if you look more recently, if we’re just
taking into account, let’s say, the last 20 years, one of the interesting things that I found,
especially in the last decade, is that you can’t always tell, and that is
because the technology has caught up to the point where whether you have a print from
a film negative or a print from a film negative that has been
scanned to become a digital file or from a file that was actually born digital, captured
digitally. All three of those things…well, the first
one, you can’t make a digital print from that, but it might be virtually indistinguishable
from the second and the third, which is the great part. So I guess partly, what I would say is, in
more recent years, maybe if you can’t tell, it doesn’t matter as much. We’re more concerned with what inks are you
using? How should we store it? How should we preserve it? So, still, film wins out over digital, but
just mainly because of the history, more and more and more current photographers
are making prints, either from scanned film negatives or from digital files. Interesting now. The world is changing. So, sadly, this one means that we’re reaching
the end of our time. I really enjoyed your questions. I wish I could answer them all day, but everybody
here has to go home. I just wanna tell you where some of the people
have been tuning in from. We have people from Spain, Iran, Honduras,
Colombia, Argentina, Germany, Hong Kong, you must be so tired, Bulgaria, Brazil, Serbia, San Francisco, Reno,
Nevada, Columbus, Ohio, Chapel Hill, North Carolina, Oklahoma, Moscow, also must be tired, Croatia and the Ukraine. That’s so terrific. I love seeing how many people tuned in from
all over the world. So we hope you enjoyed this. If you did…sorry. There are a few things I’m supposed to remember
to say as we wrap this up. There are other live Q&A sessions on MoMA’s
YouTube channel, check them all out. They’re all really terrific. I learned a lot through them. You can also look through, we have a special
photography playlist, which includes a lot of the videos that we
made for an online course called “Seeing Through Photographs” on Coursera. And to those of you who are our Coursera learners,
thank you for taking the course. Your enthusiasm means so much to us and we’ll
keep doing these activations. There’ll be a link to the scenes for photographs
in the comments saying if you wanna do that. And if we didn’t get to your question, I know
I have a stack here, I know there were others that came in. First, I’m sorry. We’re doing our best. I was trying to rip through them, but we’ll
also try to continue answering them in the coming days. So thanks for tuning in. Keep sending us questions. Let us know if you wanna see more of these
live Q&A’s and what you’d like them to be about. And also, most importantly, subscribe to MoMA’s
YouTube channel so you don’t miss another one. Thanks a lot.

13 Comments

  • BrotherWoody1 says:

    Great as usual. Thank you.

  • FaCu aRroYo says:

    Very interesting! Even though she didn't answer my question 😭😦😭😦

  • Carla Carduz says:

    What is the name of the Brazilian photographer??

  • wasabifoto says:

    Great viseo and I like to watch more in the future.

  • Ron Donson says:

    I thoroughly enjoyed this!!! Thank you for making the time and effort to put this on.

  • Maxime says:

    This was a really really great video and idea.
    I feel a bit sorry about the confusion in the questions between conservation and curation. I'm not saying conservation is not a very good topic, this is indeed very interesting. But as we had the chance to have a direct (or indirect) talk with an actual curator, I would have loved to get more feedback about what it is to be a curator at the MoMA, what it is to be a curator right now, what more broadly it is to be part of this epic new era brought by Photography. I did not catch the trailer nor the Q&A announcement so I was not able to submit any question..

  • Olaf Vivas says:

    Me encantó el vídeo, conocer tras bambalinas cómo es que se almacenan las fotografías y sus cuidados básicos. Así como las explicaciones de los soportes que cuidan las piezas. Gracias por el empeño y carisma mostrados, saludos!!

  • Rebeca del Castillo says:

    This was a great video. I learned a lot from it! Thanks!

  • A. Aqil says:

    This is the best thing ever. I gain so many knowledge.

  • Pedro Delafuente says:

    super gracias courcera. Thk Coursera.

  • DoorDash Mike says:

    How do you get your art displayed in MoMa?

  • 2tao tang says:

    This Video is so fantastic and interesting, really really thank you !

  • Alex 0202 says:

    Can pictures that get admitted through moma's photography submission form be sold? Not by moma, but in general?

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