After reading the responses to the previous topic on the merits of Joel Peter Witkin's methods and images, I would like to know what are some of your opinions and ideas as to what the difference is between obvious shock art and images that may contain shocking subject matter but in the context of news, science etc. Is purpose and context the only difference?
a couple of examples: Weegee made many images of victims of brutal violence that were extremely shocking for his day. I don't believe that his original purpose was art, yet today people collect his work. Another example, is the use of photographs of aborted fetuses by right to life groups. I would guess that many of the these images were made purely as documentation for educational purposes at one time and while shocking or disturbing to the lay person were made with objectivity in mind.
On NPR I heard a story about a medical museum that contains specimens and images of people who had suffered all kinds of horrible disfiguring birth defects and diseases. It was originally a research center afilliated with a university but when they realized that the public was fascinated by such "freaks", they opened as a museum to educate the public and collect a few bucks. Suddenly the images change from documentation of suffering for educational purposes to shocking pictures and specimens that appeal to a public fascinated by such things. It is amazing how the context in which a photograph is understood can change over time.