08 April 2014

Documentary? Photojournalism? Art? ... Oh My! What's a Critic to Do?

"Documentary" is an aesthetic. So, trying to differentiate in a clear and general way between documentary, photojournalism, and "art" photography is an impossible task. Hence it is a fruitless undertaking. I wrote an essay several years ago called "What to Do With Invidious Distinctions?" making this point. Here is a recent essay by Pernilla Holmes that does the same thing. There is little to disagree with in it. But the author also makes scant headway. Our aim, I think, ought to be to stop stating and restating the basic point that the boundaries between "genres" is porous and shifting and instead take that well-established observation as a premise in developing new ways of talking about photography. My view is that we ought to stop worrying about photographs as objects (hence asking what they are or how they work) and focus instead on the pragmatics of photography - how we use it and why. But there is no surprise there either!

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