About the 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.

"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."
—Tim O'Brien, The Things They Carried

The Personal Pin-up Project is a public and 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. As Tim O’Brien reminds us 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.”

The digital nature of this project allows me to create an archive that privileges both the collective and the individual experience. This is a large-scale project, making it possible to see commonalities across images while also collecting photographs that reflect a diversity of experiences. Users are able to caption and to (eventually) tag their photographs so that we can learn about the personal stories behind each snapshot while also seeking patterns across individual images.

The Personal Pin-up Project is unique in its focus—this is not an archive of professional photojournalism nor it is a catch-all for thousands of soldier snapshots. This archive 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. It is my hope that 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.