Light Writing and Life Writing

Photography in Autobiography

By Timothy Dow Adams

Light Writing and Life Writing

328 pp., 6.125 x 9.25, 54 illus., notes, bibl., index

  • Paperback ISBN: 978-0-8078-4792-3
    Published: November 1999

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On the surface, the use of photography in autobiography appears to have a straightforward purpose: to illustrate and corroborate the text. But in the wake of poststructuralism, the role of photography in autobiography is far from simple or one-dimensional. Both media are increasingly self-conscious, argues Timothy Adams, and combining them intensifies rather than reduces the complexity and ambiguity of each taken separately.

Focusing on works by Paul Auster, Maxine Hong Kingston, Sheila Ortiz Taylor, Sandra Ortiz Taylor, N. Scott Momaday, Michael Ondaatje, Reynolds Price, Eudora Welty, Wright Morris, and Edward Weston, Adams explores the ways in which text and image can interact with and reflect on one another. Photography may stimulate, inspire, or seem to document autobiography, he demonstrates, but it may also confound verbal narrative. Conversely, autobiography may mediate, motivate, or even take the form of photography. Because both media exist on the border between fact and fiction, Adams argues, they often undercut just as easily as they reinforce each other. Exploring the interrelations between photography and autobiography uncovers an inherent tendency in both to conceal as much as they reveal.

About the Author

Timothy Dow Adams, author of Telling Lies in Modern American Autobiography, is professor of English at West Virginia University.

For more information about Timothy Dow Adams, visit the Author Page.


"On a bookshelf crowded with autobiographical and photographic criticism, this book is one worth picking up. The author shows his mastery of this territory by not imposing a rigidly generic taxonomy on his material . . . . This is a well-structured book that discusses both critical and aesthetic theory and introduces many challenging, twentieth century works, both familiar and worthy of discovery."--American Studies

"Adams has written a fascinating study of the interrelationships between image and text, portrait and self-portrait, biography and autobiography. Building on our understanding of the quasi-fictional nature of both photography and autobiography, Light Writing and Life Writing is a richly researched, smart book, with detailed discussions of Kingston, Auster, Momaday, Ondaatje, Price, Welty, Morris, and Weston. It will be an indispensable addition to the growing work on literature and photography."--Miles Orvell, Temple University

"Light Writing and Life Writing is an original, comprehensive, and penetrating account of the various ways in which photography and verbal narrative may combine in autobiography and memoir. Adams's astute examination of the tricky relations between photography and autobiography advances our understanding of the complex artifactuality of these apparently referential media. His book puts modern life writing in a revealing new light."--G. Thomas Couser, Hofstra University