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Roles and responsibilities

and genres and sub-genres

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These are some jottings made, starting 27th August 2020. I am just winding up C&N and about to start I&P


The base function of a photograph is to show what something looks like.

The subject of a photograph may be animate or inanimate, tangible or intangible.

The purposes of a photograph can be diverse.

To record an visual instance which is rare or unusual or inaccessible. 
To document the appearance of an item or an individual or a location.
To represent the feelings or mood or attitude of the photographer.
These are not.mutually exclusive and there are others.

[19Sep] Alternatively, I wrote last night,

a photograph is a copy of what a moment in time somewhere looked like
to the extent that, through processing, it is not, to that extent it is no longer a photograph me

I was aiming to channel Lincoln here, 'Whatever differs from this, to the extent of the difference, is no democracy' (1858). There is scope for getting closer.


[written in the middle of the night]
The role of the photographer is to express themselves visually and if desired, with associated text or other support materials. If a photographer wishes to share their work with an audience, they have a responsibility to create it in such a way as to convey their message. The audience cannot be expected to react as envisaged.


The method and circumstances of display (Barthes referred to the channel of transmission) can affect the viewer's reaction.

One's expectations (of whatever sort) of a 6x4 enprint are likely to be lower (in an appropraite measure) than for the same image in a much larger format on a gallery of museum wall. This is partly because a gallery showing bestows recognition, something and kudos to the work and the worker.
Any text (or sound, etc.) accompanying the display will probably be intended to direct the viewer's interpretation.
There is a particular instance of this influence in the case of newspapers, magazines and other publications where there is likely to be text in the form of headlines, captions and articles all reinforcing the message of which the image is part. Additionally, the viewer in such a case would be an active, willing participant in this process by buying the newspaper, book etc., probably with positive intentions (for example, my oft-cited Guardian reader buys that paper because it accords with their outlook).


We have seen in the case of the Guardian reader that the viewer sometimes chooses to engage with the medium of delivery and thereby might be predisposed to react positively. With a newspaper, the reader does not know what images will be appearing on any but the front page.

In the case of a book or exhibition by a single artist (or multiple artists the viewer is aware of, or a theme that implies particular imagery) then the viewer is choosing to engage with that product and with those images for a reason, often a positive one.

Sue Sontag wrote in a quote that I regard as one of the most important in understanding the dynamics of photography,

photographs do not seem strongly bound by the intention of the photographer Sontag, On Photography, quoted in La Grange (2005) p.37

then the Walker essay


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There is any number of ways to slice these. Let's start with Terry Barrett's (a summary first written during EyV Asg.5):

Descriptive - diagnostic, factual e.g. clinical photography, the Hubble Space Telescope
Explanatory - similar, but with some artistic flair, includes most press photography e.g. Muybridge
Interpretive - staged by the photographer, can be ambiguous e.g. Jeff Wall
Ethically evaluative - factual but also socially judgemental e.g. Walker Evans, Dorothea Lange
Aesthetically evaluative - often beautiful things photographed artistically e.g. Ansel Adams', Edward Weston, Cartier-Bresson
Theoretical — photographs about photography e.g. Cindy Sherman


No specific mention of documentary there, but Barrett states it mostly fits into explanatory.

Jourdan Aldredge, writing on thinks there are six types in film:

poetic, expository, observational, participatory, reflexive, performative has some overlap,

expository, impressionistic, observational, reflexive, experimental

Kristine Potter, interviewed in Wolf's PhotoWork (2019) states,

"Subjective documentary" is a phrase that gets used a lot around my work, and I suppose it comes close … I'm highly influenced by what some call Lyric Documantary. Kristine Potter in Wolf, 2019, p.174

Lyric doc is a term several inerviewees in the book associate with Walker Evans.

Also in Wolf, Richard Renaldi says

According to a website I found, Top 15 Genres of Photography That You Need to Know, I shoot in pretty much every genre except "war" and "sports" Richard Renaldi in Wolf, 2019, p.184

He also mentions Wikipedia and their many listed genres. The site with 15 he mentioned is probably Shaw Academy and that lists:

Aerial, Architectural, Candid, Documentary, Fashion, Food, Landscape, Night-long exposure, Photojournalism, Conceptual/ fine art, Portraiture, Sport, Street, War, Wildlife.

My problem with the 15 is that is an unsatisfactory mixture of subjects and approaches. Barrett's is more coherent (though not entirely so).

Boaz Eapen on has an even less satisfactory 15, a mishmash of subjects approaches and markets:

Wedding, Event, Portrait, Product, Fine Art, Fashion, Architectural, Tavel, Advertising / Lifestyle, Photojournalism, Pets, Sports, Aerial, Scientific, Stock

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Site - Wikipedia

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text cite

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Aldredge, J (2020) The 6 Types of Documentary Films [online]. Available from [Accessed 28 August 2020].

Eapen, B (2018) 15 types of photography genres you can pursue as a professional photographer [online]. Available from [Accessed 28 August 2020].

Lincoln, A (1858) Definition of Democracy, in Roy P. Basler, ed., The Collected Works of Abraham Lincoln (8 vols., New Brunswick, NJ: Rutgers University Press, 1953), 2: 533, [accessed 19 September 2020]

Shaw Academy (2016) Types of Photography -15 Top Photography Genres that you need to know [online]. Available from [Accessed nn August 2020]. (n.d.) Types of Documentary Films [online]. Available from [Accessed 28 August 2020].

Wikipedia (2020) Category:Photography by genre [online]. Available from [Accessed 28 August 2020].

Wolf, S. (2019) Photo Work: forty photographers on process and practice. New York: Aperture Foundation

author (year) Title. Location: Publisher.

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author (year) title [online]. website. Available from url [Accessed nn August 2020].

author (year) title [online]. website. Available from url [Accessed nn August 2020].

author, (year) Book Title. Location: Publisher.

author (year) Title. Journal. Vol, pages.

author (year) Title. Newspaper. Date. pages.

Page created 28-Aug-2020 | Page updated 19-Sep-2020