Genres: Personal Journeys & Responding to the Archive

The course notes go on to look at two further genres :

  • Personal Journeys and Fictional Autobiography
  • Responding to the Archive

I might come back to them separately in the future but for now, what if they’re combined?

Nan Goldin is one of the photographers mentioned in the first section and a quote of hers that sums up the personal journey approach is [1] ‘There is a popular notion that the photographer is by nature a voyeur, the last one to be invited to the party. But I’m not crashing; this is my party. This is my family, my history.

Then Sekula is referenced in the notes with respect to the archive and he suggests that we might “regard these photographs as ‘historical documents’ …. or treat these photographs as “aesthetic objects’“.

In terms of “historical documents’ Sekula is wary; suggesting that “The viewer of standard pictorial histories loses any ground in the present from which to make critical evaluations.” and regarding the aesthetic approach suggests a romantic or post-romantic approach.

Again, what if these are all combined?

When my parents in law died we found the archive of my father-in-law’s photographs. To call a number of boxes of transparencies and prints from the 1920s to the 1970s an archive might seem slightly misleading but many of those images are now in the Imperial War Museum as a section of the museum’s World War II archive so I think tat we can safely call them an official archive.

At the same time we found my mother-in-law’s diaries from almost as long a period and the combination of the two make a fascinating story combining Sekula’s history with the romantic. During much of the war my father-in-law was based in the USA whilst my mother-in-law was back home in the Land Army. Two contemporaneous elements from the sets provide a typical contrast between the two.


1941_02_14 Ashley Walk

The first couple of elements shows the similarities of their lives at the time

 4th April 1941: They had a bomb in the garden last night. Quite a mess but no-one was hurt. Olive and I were fire watching but the men sent us in and did it for us


Manhattan Project Los Alamos 1The second set shows the differences with the image being from Los Alamos in the USA and the diary entry showing life back home.

Had interview at Labour Exchange with Hon. Mrs Bathurst for the Land Army. Was accepted for the Forestry Branch and will , in due course, go to a training camp in Sussex or Suffolk. Got a permit for knitting wool for the forces



The story that unfolds with the two series, the images and the diaries, could become horribly romantic or as dry as Sekula describes historical archives to be. Alternatively it could be a fascinating insight into lives before, during and after the Second World War described from a personal viewpoint, showing “insiderness” to reuse Solomon-Godeau’s word.

My problem with taking this forward as a major project is how does it evolve, how do I show progress ? The two archives as they stand are fixed, to add extraneous elements to them would dilute the story though additional material could be beneficial in places. In addition we’ve already produced a book covering this for other family members so it would be like revisiting old work – not something that I really want to do for a Major Project at this stage.

Perhaps it’s something that I’ll revisit at a later date but for now I’ll park it … regretfully.

Incidentally, the photo at the top is from the archive. I love it for the scenery, the history and the sense of adventure … a bit like this course really !



  1. Nan Goldin (1986). Nan Goldin:The Ballad Of Sexual Dependency . New York: Aperture. 1-144.
  2. Sekula, A.,‘Reading an Archive: Photography between Labour and Capital’ in Evans, J. & Hall, S. (eds.) (1999) Visual Culture: The Reader, London: Sage
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