“Art loses all meaning when placed in a room where it has a price, but no value.” – Unknown (originally seen quoted on HONY)
Terry Barrett, who is currently a professor at the University of North Texas, is author of the well-known book Criticizing Photographs. In this book, he explores techniques for thoughtful photographic critique. I found an article he wrote called “Teaching about Photography: Types of Art,” in which he explains some of the content in his book. By “types of art,” he is referring to the six exhaustive categories of photography that he has come up with. He says that photography teachers can utilize these six categories to create an assignment in which the purpose would “not be to make a good or beautiful photograph, but to use the camera and darkroom to express something significant about what they are photographing.” The six categories include:
1. Descriptive Photos: All photos are descriptive, but as a category of photography, this type of photography is taken for the sole purpose of describing (example: company I.D. cards).
2. Explanatory: This type of photography seeks to help one understand how objects or living things work (example: Edweard Muybridge’s photo series of birds flying; photographed for scientific study).
3. Interpretive: This type of photography is “fictive, poetic and metaphoric, usually using actors, models, or situations directed by the photographer” (example: Jerry Uelsmann’s multiply-exposed style featuring subjects such as hamburgers in the sky and angels emerging from crevassed rocks).
4. Ethically Evaluative: This type of photography judges society in some way (example: Minamata disease documentation in Japan by photographers Eugene and Aileen Smith brought international attention and intervention of chemical pollution).
5. Aesthetically Evaluative: This type of photography can often present subjects as “inherently beautiful and worthy of aesthetic attention,” but can also point out the aesthetically displeasing nature of subjects (example: Ansel Adams’ landscape work demonstrates the aesthetically pleasing quality of nature).
6. Theoretical: This type of photography provides criticism of visual art–art about art or photography about photography. I think conceptual photographer Uta Barth presents some great examples.
*If you are interested in learning more about Barrett’s ideas in Criticizing Photographs, check out the book itself or read a post by a photographer named Hugh (who is working on a fantastic photo project that you should check out), who has created a mind map of Barrett’s ideas: “Criticizing Photographs — Terry Barrett (1999).”
Barrett, Terry. “Teaching About Photography: Types of Photographs.” Journal of Art Education, Volume 39, Number 5, September 1986, pages 41-44.