photography

How useful is GENRE as a concept?

Genre appears to be a slippery term – its use stated by David Bates lying in creating ‘an expectation for the meanings to be derived from that type of photograph”.  (Script “Body of Work” p. 12). He himself mentions widely accepted genres like portraiture, landscape, still life, documentary etc. If we search the Web under the term ‘genres in photography’ we find virtually dozens of more or less absurd entries as ‘Top 10 photography genres” (listing among more usual categories such genres as Light painting, floral photography, food photography, bokeh photography…. ) “The 11 most important genres of iPhone photography” or “Photography genres demystified (or muddled)” which lists no less than 25 genres, including Astrophotography, Stock photography, Fine art photography….

What is a genre might appear then to be solipsistic to each person dealing with questions of photographic theory, or at least arbitrary when we compare different art critics’ enumeration of genres. Bate goes on to say that “Genres, however, are not fixed; they are mutable. Genres are processes, which evolve and develop or mutate into hybrids.” (Bate, D. p.4). Another explanation I find helpful is given by Richard Salkeld  : ” ‘Genre’ is a term used to indicate a particular style or category of communication. … Typically, a genre classification will point to conventions associated with the history or ethics of that style – not for the purpose of laying down rules, but for facilitating coherence; however, it is certainly true that slavish adherence to conventions may produce boring and predictable results and that the most stimulating work will often play with, or break, those conventions. “(Reading Photographs, p. 55)                                                                                                                                                                                                                       By defining entirely different genres our script seems to attempt such a playing with or breaking the conventions of genres as we generally find them in the critical literature of photography or the visual arts in general. The use of this appears to me to be  able to to lead a rational discourse on work under discussion, but also to reflect my own work and to account for it within other current photography being produced. Thinking of an example: If I work within a genre like ‘phychogeography’ my photographing landscapes might not only evade the derogatory opinion of critics that picture postcard sights have been created,  but I will actually LOOK at what I am photographing differently and possibly frame my subject in an entirely different manner. – The electric power lines going through a valley overview will not be painstakingly photoshopped out of my image because they convey meaning within my landscape.

Genre then seems to be useful as a concept which facilitates discourse, (the blurring of the boundaries included), as long as the group of people talking about a certain set of genres has a shared understanding of what exactly is meant by it, helping to conceptualise what photographic work is all about and how  we might make sense of what we read in a photograph as long as the term genre excludes categorising into rigid boxes, as this, in my opinion, would be a questionable use of the idea of genre, preventing both creativity and  fruitful dialogue.

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