Kenneth Jarecke made a nice post talking about the differences between newspaper and magazine photography here. I think that he made the distinctions very well by saying that newspaper photography because its deadlines are so tight tends to be literal/straight visually and based on answering questions while magazine photography tends to be more conceptual/complex and likes to ask questions. This got me thinking.
If you were to read the caption on 3 photos, one a classic newspaper photo, another a magazine photo and a "fine art" (whatever that really is) photo you would see the differences easily:
In the newspaper photo you tend to get a straight visual documentation of a situation. The caption reads: "Highland Cougars #16 Rod Parnell scores the winning point in overtime over arch rivals the Southfield Raptors 7-6".
In the news magazine photo since they have more time to work the situation they get more outside the obvious recording of a scene and try to be evocotive. So that caption might be: "The distraught face of Rod Parnell is reflected in the wall clock as he sits in the whirlpool of the Highland Cougars training facility awaiting charges in the doping scandal which has rocked this once rising star of the sport".
The "art" photo would maybe be a collage of images of Rod Parnell with words written on the photos and loads of things that many people would find to be almost randomly glued on the large final print. That caption would read: "#4 in the series Jesus Hitler On Rye". (Sorry I can never take that kinda stuff seriously)
Anyway the newspaper shot is a good solid and easy read. You look and you get the story. The magazine shot makes you stop and think "Erm, what's this about? He really doesn't look happy. Wait, hey that's Parnell … oooh gotta read that story". The art shot makes you stand there and stare and stare and wonder "what the heck is that?". One has no mystery to it at all – it's all right there. The next leaves things a bit nebulous where you need to peer into it to see it's slightly obscured truths or its uncommon vision of the world. The other doesn't want to tell you anything – its all on you to guess the intention and meaning of the image.
Personally I think that the world itself is a mysterious thing in the best of ways. But it's not a mentally intractable mess either. When an image has some element of uncertainty it often engages you to want to look more deeply into it. Too much and you just through up your hands in frustration. What you don't see is sometimes as interesting as what you do or maybe even more but you have to see something. That's what the mastery of Alfred Hitchcock movies were all about.
Well I'm no Hitchcock but when I was reading Kens post I immediately though of this shot I did a bit ago: