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For me, markup should be used to structure and communicate essential contentâ€”that which has value to the user arriving at a particular URL. This should degrade down to plain text because, like it or not, the web can be consumed in states where it is not visual. Thinking about pages this way, is actually useful because it can help us make decisions about what content is essential, is valuable.
An example. For a listing of story excerpts on a news site, an image for each story might not be considered essential contentâ€”remember, the story this excerpt links to would contain an image (on that particular URL, it might be considered valuable content). That image can still be accessed.
Take your example. As a gallery of visual work, it’s likely these visuals would be why people are visiting your site. Your work therefore is valuable content in this case. But that’s not to say full resolution images of this work are. Instead, you might want to provide smaller thumbnails, with links to larger resolution images, that users can then choose to view or not.
And in both these cases, what I describe here is the basic, resting state. We can progressively enhance up from this point, and make further, perhaps more nuanced decisions about what is valuable or not in different states.
Does this make sense? I’m going to put some of these ideas into code, as describing them in abstract is proving difficult.
Thanks for pushing back on what I’ve said here; if anything it is helping me clarify my points.