Taking the stance that photographs are “weapons in an ideological struggle” (15), Rugg argues that photography, like autobiography, allows its subjects a kind of control over perceptions of selfhood both privately and publicly. We tend to understand photographs as a special kind of sign, believed to have a more realistic relationship towards between signified and signifier than words (12)—hence the old cliché, “a picture is worth a thousand words.” But even before an era of rampant photoshop and digital image creation, the photo was understood through social comprehension. Simply by existing, a photo represents much more than itself—it represents layers of cultural, economic, political, and personal representation. The same can be said of autobiography, the “medium for constructing selfhood” (12). Moving oneself from the role of purely object for a lens or piece of writing is creating a somewhat paradoxical role of object/objectifier, where the subject is at once separated from the subject experience while simultaneously experiencing it.
Rugg’s book features an introduction which walks her readers through her basic argument and the varying arguments and approaches she undertakes. She features case studies, such as her examples focusing around Mark Twain or Christa Wolf, to discuss the varying methodologies and approaches towards the release and control of autobiographical material and photography. Arguing that photographs and autobiography act together in a sign system, Rugg believes it is equally important to examine the social context of photography’s construction, as well as the actually constructed material of the photograph itself. To elaborate closely on this idea, she discusses the referential abilities of autobiography in relation to women and minority autobiography, taking special note of the relationship between photography and autobiography in women’s studies due to the objectification processes occurring in the very creation of autobiography or photography. Lastly, the introduction to her book focuses on the role of photographs within autobiographical texts themselves, noting the role of photographs as still memory, captured and dead moments, and the absences these memories often come to explain and explore. Both autobiography and photography act to memorialize and immortalize their subjects, and when combined together, can illustrate a larger comprehension of a single view of a larger context.