Thoughts about Photography Genres

Discussion in 'Open Discussion' started by OzRay, Aug 26, 2014.

  1. OzRay

    OzRay Mu-43 Legend

    Jan 29, 2010
    South Gippsland, Australia
    Ray, not Oz
    Now before this gets blasted out of the water, it has nothing to do with recent debates about you know what, other than it did make me ponder about this in greater depth. In two somewhat recent posts in my blog, I've discussed street photography and portraiture and how these tend to be defined. In the releveant threads in this forum, both street photography and portraiture (without going through every page) tend to follow 'conventional' styles, nothing radical. However, this has the potential leave out a whole raft of different images, because they don't quite fit the norm.

    In my street photography blog I raised the question whether street photography is really about people and whether this photograph, for example, should fit the conventions of street photography, not just because it's B&W. I'm not sure what other catergory it would fit, because it's about the person interacting with the environment, not a landscape:

    street07.

    In the portrait blog, I posted this image (a potential off-beat style I'd like to explore a little more in the future), with a question mark as to whether it constitutes portraiture (with this link: http://theonlinephotographer.blogspot.com.au/2006/06/great-photographers-on-internet.html as a comic example of what could happen to classic photos today on forums):

    fine-art-portrait.

    Do others like to take photographs, or massage them in Photoshop or whatever, in a way that leaves them with some difficulty when it comes to categorising them, because they don't obviously fit any contemporary category or style?

    Does it matter, or is it a subject worthy of discussion?
     
  2. biomed

    biomed Mu-43 Hall of Famer

    Aug 22, 2013
    Seattle area
    Mike
    Both great images whether or not they fit into specific categories. I may come back to this after I think about it for a while. Had a bit of surgery this morning to remove a small bit of skin cancer. My right eye is swollen and the dressing prevents my glasses from fitting properly.

    Mike
     
  3. OzRay

    OzRay Mu-43 Legend

    Jan 29, 2010
    South Gippsland, Australia
    Ray, not Oz
    Hope everything went well, for a photographer, eyes are your tools of trade. I hope my second image doesn't play havoc.
     
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  4. OzRay

    OzRay Mu-43 Legend

    Jan 29, 2010
    South Gippsland, Australia
    Ray, not Oz
    Just as an explanation of the portrait, I started with a conventional photo and just cut out the face and intended to put that on the white background. But it didn't seem complete and so I made adjustments and by accident the adjustment created a layer, I think, and when I went to move the image, a second one appeared over the first. That's when I saw an idea and repeated my first move while changing the image once again, moved it above the second and so forth until I had the four overlaid images. The idea was a transition from a fully 'realist' style image to a somewhat 'impressionist' style image. In the one photo I was trying to create a vision of transition. The large white background is intentional, in order to draw the viewer's eyes always back to the face, even as they try to move away.
     
  5. biomed

    biomed Mu-43 Hall of Famer

    Aug 22, 2013
    Seattle area
    Mike
    Everything is fine. The doc got all of the cancer - just going to be a bit of time before it heals up. The second image reminds me a bit of a cast metal bottle opener my uncle had on the wall in his workshop. Instead of multiple mouths it had three pairs of eyes and oversize teeth to remove the beer bottle cap. Have you thought about doing a similar photo with different mouths from the serious graduating to a slight Mona Lisa smile.

    Mike
     
  6. OzRay

    OzRay Mu-43 Legend

    Jan 29, 2010
    South Gippsland, Australia
    Ray, not Oz
    My Photoshop skills are crap, so anything I create is usually by pure accident.
     
  7. agentlossing

    agentlossing Mu-43 Hall of Famer

    Jun 26, 2013
    Andrew Lossing
    I think when you really dig down deep into the semantics, genres turn out to be artificial concepts, which is what they are. Loose categories that we use as a linguistic aid to keep from having to describe every detail of an image, but far from a definitive, "perfect" and applicable label. Personally I think we think too hard sometimes.

    I'm confused as to why you link the climber shot to street, however.
    GX1•17/2.8•30/2.8
     
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  8. OzRay

    OzRay Mu-43 Legend

    Jan 29, 2010
    South Gippsland, Australia
    Ray, not Oz
    Genres tend to form from accepted definitions or styles, which is why they can be labelled as such, they become more or less a standard. That then leads people to follow that style/standard and it becomes the norm, until challenged in one way or another. But it's the 'norm' that keeps people repeating the accepted style and not moving away and trying something different/radical etc. That's what I'm trying to flesh out here.

    The rock climber is a classic example of what I'm trying to challenge. Street photography isn't about photographs of streets and roads. What is street photography typically about? It's about people, people interacting with their environment. The rock climber is not documentary, because it's not recording anything of historical or such interest. So why should photographs of people on other 'pathways' not be eligible to be called street photography?
     
  9. David A

    David A Mu-43 All-Pro

    Sep 30, 2011
    Brisbane, Australia
    "Street photography" is one of those labels that acts a bit like the word "thing". Any physical object can be referred to by "thing" and I regularly find myself wondering whether any photograph of people doing things can be referred to as "street photography". For my money I wouldn't have called your first image "street photography" because I tend to think of street photography as being something related to built environments. I don't think it always has to include people, I've seen a couple of images of dogs in streets that I accepted as street photography, and it doesn't have to be in a street because I've seen more than a few photos taken inside cafes and other buildings, or in cars, that I accepted as street photography. For me, street photography is photographs taken in a built environment but the environment itself is not the primary subject. I think it also needs to include people or animals but I don't think those people or animals necessarily need to be alive so I might regard an image of a funeral pyre on an Indian riverbank in an urban environment as a street photograph even if there were no living people or animals in it, simply because it's an image of an aspect of life in that environment

    I certainly agree with you that ideas of what the "norm" for a particular genre is can keep SOME people repeating the style defined by what they regard as the norm but I don't think that's the case with street photography. I've got several books of street photography featuring many different photographers and there isn't a single norm that could be said to be the defining characteristic of the images in those books. There's a wide range of images and, apart from a built environment being the location but not the subject, there's little common to all of them. There are images in those books that I don't think are street photographs but that someone else obviously does. One thing is clear and that is that there are a lot of people trying to do things that aren't what most people regard as the "classical street photography" style of the middle of the last century, and there's a lot of different directions being pursued. That's the reason the question of what is and isn't street photography always ends up being contentious. It's not that people "aren't moving away and trying something different/radical etc" in my view. It's because that is exactly what they are doing, but they're going in a lot of different directions and there's no agreement about which directions are still street photography and which aren't amongst those who are doing different things, and there's always a traditionalist hard core who think that any move away from what they think is the "accepted style" simply can't be street photography.

    I'd say if there's one genre in which the norms are definitely being challenged and people can be found trying something different and/or radical, then it would have to be street photography.

    And while I'd say that your first image isn't street photography, I'd also say your second image is most definitely a portrait. Anyone can see that. :)
     
  10. agentlossing

    agentlossing Mu-43 Hall of Famer

    Jun 26, 2013
    Andrew Lossing
    I think that almost every photo ever produced occupies more than one genre. That's sort of what I was getting at when I asked the question in another topic, is street photography "documentary." What must define the genre of the photo? I'd say whichever genre fits it better than any other. So, while your photo has a person interacting with their environment (which is part - but not all - of what makes a street photo) it is also mostly about the natural world, and is depicting more what I'd call "adventure" which is a theme in travel photography more than anything else. So there are at less three genres off the top of my head.

    I'd say street photography is a lot more about mankind's structured attempts at taming and ordering their world, which is part of its poignancy, but I'm sure my definition would be splitting hairs too fine for some.
    GX1•17/2.8•30/2.8
     
  11. bassman

    bassman Mu-43 Top Veteran

    680
    Apr 22, 2013
    New Jersey
    Scott
    Genres are created in art (and music, as well) in order to simplify human communication about the art. When you say "this is a landscape photograph", you are communicating something to the viewer about the piece. It is perhaps unfortunate that once we put names to categories like this, people tend to try and precisely define them using words. And then argue about whether some image fits into this or that genre. As if it mattered. Of course, if words were sufficient, we wouldn't need to pictures, would we? There are a great many photographs that don't neatly fall into a single genre, which has nothing to do with the image itself but merely makes it harder to describe to another person without showing them the image. And why is that important, anyway?

    I think it's a useful set of conventions as long as one doesn't take it too rigidly. At the end of the day, it's about the image, not the label.
     
  12. agentlossing

    agentlossing Mu-43 Hall of Famer

    Jun 26, 2013
    Andrew Lossing
    Precisely. Genres are a linguistic construction, and as with most linguistic constructions it rarely hits the mark right on the bullseye.
     
  13. OzRay

    OzRay Mu-43 Legend

    Jan 29, 2010
    South Gippsland, Australia
    Ray, not Oz
    What I'm trying to explore here is diversity. Much of what we see on the forum, more or less follows, convention in both street photography and portraiture. I'm not immune to doing that, which is why I'm trying to push the bounds for myself, but was interested in how others felt. If I post either of the photographs in the relevant areas, how would people react.

    The rock climber is probably the one that's especially in a grey area, as already evidenced, but understand that where it was taken was not utter wilderness, but within an area (The Grampians in Victoria) where the walking tracks and areas that you can access are very precisely defined to a large extent. It funnels and controls the huge numbers of tourists that congregate there every year and is, in many respects, as planned/laid out as a city street. Some of the more specific areas, at peak time, look almost like a plaza in any major city, except that the concrete and pavers are natural rock.
     
  14. bassman

    bassman Mu-43 Top Veteran

    680
    Apr 22, 2013
    New Jersey
    Scott
    Ray -

    I'm all for you exploring the boundaries of "genres". I like a good photo. How you call it matters less to me.

    Scott