Stories from Summer Vacation: Andi Gustavson Launches Personal Pin-up Project

Andi Gustavson describes the launch of a digital archive on war and photography to which servicemembers of all kinds can contribute – take a look!

from the Personal Pin-up PRoject

from the Personal Pin-up PRoject

This summer I launched the digital humanities portion of my dissertation on Cold War snapshot photography, the Personal Pin-up Project. I am collecting the private photographs that servicemembers carried or kept with them during their time in the military. These personal “pin-ups” can be snapshots of loved ones taken by the soldiers themselves or pictures of women or men who posed for the camera and then sent that snapshot off to war. I am looking for the photograph kept in the pocket, or worn in the helmet, or hidden in the gear of each servicemember. These images of loved ones do not often make their way into archives or art galleries. And yet, if most military members had one special photograph with them when they went away to war, then there must be thousands of these snapshots—in shoeboxes under beds, tucked into the back of closets, left in journals or letters, or stored on cellphones. The Personal Pin-up Project brings together the private images scattered across thousands of homes into a public and digital archive.

The Personal Pin-up Project is a public digital archive of the private images taken and kept by many American veterans and their loved ones. There is currently no archival repository to collect such a specific subset of war-related photographs that were, nevertheless, very common. Over the last several years as I was working on my dissertation about snapshot photography and the Cold War, I kept coming across references to these personal photographs of loved ones that were treasured by servicemembers and carried with them while they were deployed. Tim O’Brien, for example, notes in The Things They Carried, “Almost everyone humped photographs. In his wallet, Lieutenant Cross carried two photographs of Martha. The first was a Kodacolor snapshot signed Love, though he knew better. She stood against a brick wall. Her eyes were gray and neutral, her lips slightly open as she stared straight-on at the camera” (3). These snapshots are incredibly common and yet I had not come across many–I kept searching and muttering to my dissertation group that “surely these photographs are out there, so why can’t I find them?” After several failed attempts to discover the type of snapshots I knew existed, I decided it might be a better use of my time to just create the archive I hope to find.

Hopefully, The Personal Pin-up Project can become a way for servicemembers to preserve their collective memories about the role of photographs carried overseas. This is not an archive of professional photojournalism nor it is a catch-all for thousands of soldier snapshots. This collection of treasured photographs will document the private experience of war, making publicly available for the first time images that were highly valued and extremely personal. By exploring the personal snapshots taken by servicemembers into warzones and overseas, we can learn more about the intimate and daily experiences of war and its relationship to love, hope, longing, desire, frustration, admiration, and nostalgia.

Please consider contributing to this archive or encouraging someone you know to contribute to the archive at