Fred G. , Jul 23, 2008; 04:53 p.m.
I've always thought of music as mostly nonthematic and nonnarrative and more symbolic or stylistic. The reason musical categories aren't arranged by subject matter is that music itself doesn't typically have a subject matter, only lyrics do. Many writings on esthetics (from Plato to Langer) approach music differently from the "visual" arts because of the latter's more representational nature. (Of course, there is abstract visual art, but we are used to making representative associations even with visual abstractions more readily than we make thematic or narrative representations with sound -- programmatic music is an exception). Attempts such as Fantasia to "interpret" music visually and narratively seem to do more to miss the point of the music than to enhance an understanding of it. Although such endeavors can be fun!
So I think photography is by its nature different from music and that may be why its categorizations are approached differently. That being said, I wouldn't put too much stock in PN being representative of how photography is often presented. I have many stylistically-oriented books. Avant-Garde Photography in Germany is one that encompasses an array of subject matters from architecture to portraiture to street shooting and the overriding factor is precisely what you're talking about, style and technique. Annie Leibowitz's new book, A Photographer's Life, is intentionally put together chronologically so that her portraits are interspersed with family photos, landscapes, and personal visions.
I think it would be interesting, on PN, to set up an alternative universe of categories like you're suggesting. It would give some freshness and vitality to submission behavior. As you mention, it might tune more people into the fact that there can be more to a photo than whether or not it's "about" a pregnant woman or a lake or a flower or an old wrinkled up face or a homeless person on the street. It might make us conscious of the approach and vision as well as the topic and narrative. It might suggest a focus on *how* as well as on *what* we see.
I also can't imagine the will being there to make this actually happen on PN.
Thanks, Paul, you've made a great point.