Within Barrett’s work Criticizing Photographs, taking inspiration from John Szarkowski’s (1966) The Photographer’s Eye, he “presents a new category system” that “covers all photographs, art and nonart, family snapshots and museum prints” (2012: 70). This category system, he states, “is based not on subject matter or form but rather on how photographs are made to function and how they are used to function” with the intention of helping “viewers think about photographs and especially to interpret them” (70). Barrett outlines these six categories as: the descriptive, explanatory, interpretive, ethically evaluative, aesthetically evaluative, and theoretical (70). Furthermore, Barrett highlights the difficulty in placing “a single photograph of unknown origin” (105) within these six categories therefore highlighting the need for “contextual [original emphasis] information” surrounding the photograph (105). The different types of context are defined by Barrett as being internal, original, or external (105).
My photograph of choice is titled Pine Street, U.S. Treasury in Foreground and initially I shall focus on the three contexts that this photograph fits into. Barrett defines original context as seeing “what the photographer has done to make a picture” and placing this within “certain information about the photographer and about the social times in which he or she was working” (108). Ultimately it is “the photographer’s intent” that aids in understanding photographs (108). Therefore, this photograph fits within Abbott’s overall project, titled Changing New York, with “the documentation of change” within New York city forming Abbott’s “central theme” (Yochelson, 1997: 21). This photograph in particular, therefore, forms an example of Abbott’s intention of creating photographs that “[were] to be documentary, as well as artistic” (Abbott in Yochelson, 1997: 25). This photograph did not officially appear “in the 1939 Dutton edition of Changing New York” (Yochelson, 1997: 339) which was the original project as funded by the Federal Art Project (FAP), a division of the Works Progress Administration (WPA).