Yes, I have been trying to categorize the different types of photography that are popular and not so popular.
Most common groups:
Lots of images of people standing and smiling in front of monuments. Pictures of your family vacation. A kinder term might be mementos. But they are a form of documenting that ‘you were there.’ Or that you took the ride at xyz amusement park. Or even that you and your sweetheart made love in the barn. t. Maybe it’s what they used to call a Kodak moment. Maybe it’s just something that brings you back to that time.
For the most part these images are only evocative to the people in the picture or the person that took the picture. However, every once in a while, if these proof photographs are also connected with an historic event, they become universal. Examples might be soldiers posing for each other just about anywhere during wartime.
And on top of that, even these simple pictures of the family will, with time, become more interesting. If you go back to look at were are now fairly inane images of the kids and pet that were taken two hundred years ago – voila – they become true documents because you get to see what the world was like back then: the fashions, the cars, the homes.
Images of historic events and the people involved that the average person doesn’t have access to. This is what is going on in the xyz region today. Very few people have been able to actually see this for themselves. And photography still serves that purpose.
BEAUTY IN THE IMAGE (Is it a postcard image? Is it simply beautiful? Another sunset? )
With the right subject, lighting, and composition – photographs can be as beautiful and mysterious as any other great form of art. It’s true that the 5000 cell phone pictures multiplied by 1 billion people will produce beautiful evocative images; and there is a class of editor who’s job it now is to sift through all this junk looking for the few images that are sellable. It’s somewhat equivalent to the million typing monkeys who will in some time period approaching the infinite produce Hamlet, or something worth reading.
There will be (and are) gatekeepers to separate the beautiful from the banal. Someone has to do it or we’ll be overrun with sunsets and sunrises.
The art photographer may not do much better. As Matt said, we are happy to get 10 really good images in a year, but our standards are not the same.
Unfortunately, a large number of people are going to end up reading this dry category description because of a search engine. Nevertheless, the erotic photograph has a history that begins with photography, and that goes back to cave paintings. It may just be the most popular and most lucrative form of photography. I’ll have to take the Supreme Courts famous declaration: I know it when I see it. Of course, that is just dumb, since what is erotic to one person is a complete snooze to another. Nevertheless, it should be listed as an important category.
This is one of the easiest categories to define. The images are of products (human or non-human) with a purpose to promote the product and make the viewer want to buy the thing, or see the movie, or whatever. They can also be artistic, but the primary purpose is to sell something other than the photograph.
I find myself moving in and out of all these categories. I admit to being least comfortable in the pure commercial field, but this usually pays the best since if done well it can make money for the producer.
Suggested by a reader, to include anything from geothermal mapping to photographs used to search for cracks or potential cracks in Hoover Dam. Photography with a technical / scientific purpose.
Not included as categories: Found Art. You search through garbage or wherever and find photographs. You then display them. Or you make a collage with them. Whatever. It’s removed from the original category of the photograph by the artists’ intentions.
Frankly, all these categories (are there more?) have soft edges and run into each other. You can clean them up if you want to make sub-categories. But this is more useful for me. Nature photography, for example, is a common category, but it can easily fall under BEAUTIFUL PHOTOGRAPHY or even SCIENTIFIC PHOTOGRAPHY, or PROOF PHOTOGRAPHY. It depends on the skill and purpose of the photographer. The truth is that no one can define art, though you and anyone else can take a crack at it. It is elusive. It goes in and out of favor. But I am thinking that in the case of photography, it can be plugged into one of these categories.
But the main kick for me (other than some of the technical stuff I get into) is the feeling that I’ve caught something that is just hard to describe in words and that will probably never exist again. One example of this sort of work is shown below. It is the burnt out building in Brooklyn (Manhattan on the other side) where a mad artist lived for a while. I was brought there by a painter friend and was glad to have my Mamiya 6 (medium format film) camera with me.
Of course it is completely unsellable. Nevertheless, I post it now and then because it seems to demonstrate one aspect of the power of photography that means something to me.