The OCA BoW materials briefly discusses genres and outlines what are called traditional genres before proposing ‘narrative genres’ that are said to have become common phrases used by artists. It is these narrative genres that the course material intends to work with. The inference could be that they displace or are more relevant than traditional genres. What we call things is important, and here I reflect on the use of genres before moving on to look at how work might fit within genres.

Attached are some short notes. In making these I also referred to Terry Barrett’s book Criticizing photographs: an introduction to understanding images , in which he discusses genres at length and also proposes his own system for categorising photographs (not photographers).


The important messages for me is that ‘genres’ have developed based on different descriptive / categorisation needs. It is not necessarily that one approach is better than another, more that they serve different purposes. I would suggest that the genres mentioned by the OCA can be thought of as meta-genres; genres about the traditional genres, referring to the narrative structures within the traditional genres. Barrett’s own approach proposes functional categorisation, describing how the images are being used (they could transition between genres depending on context), which is related to how a photography might be read or decoded.

I understand that labels and categories are helpful to enable us to make sense of the world, but they inevitably simplify by introducing a binary dimension to complex texts. I feel it helpful to use genres, but to also keep in mind their purpose and limitations.