Queering Family Photography: A Short Film

Uncategorized

In May 2016, The Family Camera Network launched a public archive project to collect and preserve family photographs and their stories, providing a resource for teachers, historians, and scholars to write new histories of photography, family, and Canada…The project has conducted over 30 interviews in total, including 16 oral history interviews with 13 queer and/or trans narrators about their family photographs. The photographs and video interviews are being preserved at the Canadian Lesbian and Gay Archives (a portion of which is represented in this video) and at the Royal Ontario Museum. This video draws from interview footage in this archive.

Queering Family Photography

gay history / trans history / Uncategorized

On April 21st, 2018, the Queering Family Photography exhibition opened at Stephen Bulger Gallery, in conjunction with artist Sunil Gupta’s exhibition, Friends and Lovers – Coming out in Montreal in the 70s.

Queering Family Photography explored the critical work that queer, trans, and two-spirited family photos do in documenting and creating queer modes of belonging, and how our emotional attachments to queer family photographs have also sustained LGBTQ2+ lives. The show traced how queer, trans, and two-spirited people draw on photography to redefine family to include queer kinships outside the heteronormative, nuclear family model. It considered the social, political, and technolo

INSTALLATION OF QUEERING FAMILY PHOTOGRAPHY AT STEPHEN BULGER GALLERY. PHOTO: M. KASUMOVIC, 2018.

INSTALLATION OF QUEERING FAMILY PHOTOGRAPHY AT STEPHEN BULGER GALLERY. PHOTO: M. KASUMOVIC, 2018.

gical factors that structure queer kinship, and the ways that LGBTQ2+ communities creatively reimagine family, linking public and private spheres together. The images on display captured fleeting moments of love and desire, as well as generational bonds, which are often fractured by a normalizing state and culture.

 

Queering Family Photography was curated by Elspeth Brown (lead) and Thy Phu, with the assistance of Sajdeep Soomal, Richard Fung, Mark Kasumovic, Tori Abel, Lucie Handley-Girard, and Sarah Parsons. It featured over 100 photographs, as well as oral histories, collected through The Family Camera Network, and loans from the Canadian Lesbian and Gay Archives (CLGA), a partner in this project, and from the Two-Spirited Collection at the University of Winnipeg Archive. It was organized by The Family Camera Network and the Canadian Lesbian and Gay Archives, with the support of Western University, Stephen Bulger Gallery, and York University. The exhibition was on display from April 21st to May 26th and it was a featured exhibition in the Scotiabank CONTACT Photography Festival.

Thematic Sections

Queering Family Photography was presented in three thematic sections: “Instant Intimacies,” “Domesticities,” and “Publics.” The exhibition also included a selection of albums in vitrines, as well as a video projection that showcased FamCam participants and their stories.

INSTALLATION OF SUNIL GUPTA: FRIENDS AND LOVERS (IN THE FOREGROUND) AND QUEERING FAMILY PHOTOGRAPHY (IN THE BACKGROUND). PHOTO: © SCOTT POBORSA / COURTESY OF STEPHEN BULGER GALLERY & SUNIL GUPTA, 2018.

INSTALLATION OF SUNIL GUPTA: FRIENDS AND LOVERS (IN THE FOREGROUND) AND QUEERING FAMILY PHOTOGRAPHY (IN THE BACKGROUND). PHOTO: © SCOTT POBORSA / COURTESY OF STEPHEN BULGER GALLERY & SUNIL GUPTA, 2018.

Instant Intimacies

The first section of the exhibition explored photographic technologies that enabled a sense of “instant intimacy,” through a small selection of Polaroid photographs and prints of digital images. Candid Polaroid prints from the 1970s-1990s brought desires into view while limiting the threat of public exposure at a time when non-normative sexualities and genders were strictly surveilled and policed. This technology of instant intimacy has also captured and created camp, queer humour, and two-spirited kinship during moments of levity and connection. Although the demise of Polaroid coincided with the digital turn, its influence persists in the era of social media, which embraces the immediacy and spontaneity that older instant cameras introduced. In “Instant Intimacies,” viewers experienced Polaroids of friends hanging out, in drag, and at parties. The digital images in this section included: selfies, a screenshot from a LiveJournal chat room for trans women, and a screenshot of a son and his parents as they connect from their respective homes in Toronto (Canada) and Mumbai (India).

Domesticities

Through a display of over thirty photographs hung in a salon style, “Domesticities” examined how family photos also shape domesticity as an ideology that forms gender roles and polices sexuality in a way that intersects with the public sphere. LGBTQ2+ people make and remake family by creating domestic images that redefine normative meanings of “daddies,” mothers, siblings, and kids. LGBTQ2+ people have reimagined these domestic descriptors in queer family photographs taken not only inside homes but also in public spaces: at the beach, in a stairwell, on the street, and elsewhere. “Domesticities” highlighted the generational bonds between parents and children, between romantic partners, and between strangers who, despite their brief connection, come together in defiance of norms and laws that criminalize queer desire and gender expression. Here, visitors saw the diverse types of images that compose family photo collections, including: baby pictures, school pictures, wedding photos, holiday snapshots, commercial images, and press photos.

INSTALLATION OF QUEERING FAMILY PHOTOGRAPHY AT STEPHEN BULGER GALLERY. PHOTO: © SCOTT POBORSA / COURTESY OF STEPHEN BULGER GALLERY, 2018.

INSTALLATION OF QUEERING FAMILY PHOTOGRAPHY AT STEPHEN BULGER GALLERY. PHOTO: © SCOTT POBORSA / COURTESY OF STEPHEN BULGER GALLERY, 2018.

Publics

LGBTQ2+ people draw on photography to expand and queer the notion of family through spectacular and quotidian means, including the highly visible spaces of the street and park, and less visible spaces such as bathhouses, coffeehouses, and clubs. Both types of spaces are pivotal for expressing queer desire yet are targets for state suppression. Events such as powwows provide opportunities to reflect further on two-spirited kinship in relationship to Indigenous cultures and queer modes of belonging. In a neoliberal era, however, many queer family spaces have become gentrified and commodified in a process that benefits some LGBTQ2+ community members while marginalizing others on the basis of class and race. The “Publics” section included photos taken during demonstrations and pride events, including images capturing: the “No More Shit” demonstration against the Toronto bathhouse raids (1981), a Zami gathering (1983), a Gay Men of African Descent march (1995), a Campaign for Equal Families demonstration (1995) and the 22nd Annual International Two-Spirit Gathering (2010).

Albums

The CLGA collection contains several family albums, which document travels and migrations, capture everyday moments and significant events, represent chosen families, memorialize friends and family members, and even acknowledge public figures in the medical profession who have been advocates for LGBTQ2+ people. The exhibition included a selection of these family photo albums and album pages in two vitrines. Some of these items included: a page with a “Spirituality in the 1990s” flyer by two-spirit activist Albert McLeod, Rupert Raj’s personal photo album featuring his cross-dressing friends, a family album with snapshots of author and photographer Terry David Silvercloud (formerly David Blair) growing up in Halifax, and an album with snapshots of Robert ‘Robbie’ Gaston Fortin, a Toronto and Vancouver-based Drag Star (a.k.a. Mrs. Wiggins), that was created by his mother for the Drag Hall of Fame after he passed away.

Video Projection: Queering Family Photography (2018)

A projection on the north wall of the exhibition space presented an original video directed by Thy Phu, and edited and animated by Maryam Golafshani and Mark Kasumovic, showing clips from oral history interviews collected by The Family Camera Network. In May 2016, The Family Camera Network launched a public archive project to collect and preserve family photographs and their stories, providing a resource for teachers, historians, and scholars to write new histories of photography, family, and Canada. At the time of the exhibition, the project had conducted over 30 interviews, including 16 oral history interviews with 13 queer and trans narrators about their family photographs. FamCam photographs and video interviews are preserved at the Canadian Lesbian and Gay Archives and at the Royal Ontario Museum. This video draws from interview footage in the FamCam archive at the CLGA.

QUEERING FAMILY PHOTOGRAPHY ROUNDTABLE AT HART HOUSE, UNIVERSITY OF TORONTO. PHOTO: M. KASUMOVIC, 2018.

QUEERING FAMILY PHOTOGRAPHY ROUNDTABLE AT HART HOUSE, UNIVERSITY OF TORONTO. PHOTO: M. KASUMOVIC, 2018.

Exhibition Outreach & Programming

Queering Family Photography reached broad audiences as one of the featured exhibitions of the Scotiabank CONTACT Photography Festival. Around 300 people visited the gallery during the opening event and the show saw between 25 to 50 visitors a day during its run. Several attendees wrote comments in the guestbook that expressed appreciation and gratitude for presenting a show that highlighted LGBTQ2+ experiences and families.

Remarking on the show and the audience it garnered at the gallery, Stephen Bulger commented:

“It was a distinct honour to offer some of our gallery space for the Queering Family Photography exhibition. CLGA’s initiative enabled Sunil Gupta to explore an old body of work for the first time which, when presented in conjunction with the archival treasures from the CLGA served to broaden the issues depicted. I also enjoyed seeing how the two exhibitions would often each attract its own audience, and how delighted they would be to discover a second, complimentary exhibition. Coupled with the audience attracted to the CONTACT festival, it would be hard to imagine a more perfect time to have hosted the two exhibitions.”

— Stephen Bulger

The Family Camera Network also hosted a Queering Family Photography roundtable on April 26th, 2018. Acclaimed filmmaker Richard Fung moderated a panel featuring prominent two-spirited activist Albert McLeod, artist Sunil Gupta, and curators Elspeth Brown and Thy Phu. It was held at Hart House (University of Toronto) and explored the themes and content of Queering Family Photography and Friends and Lovers – Coming Out in Montreal in the 70s. This free public panel drew an audience of over 60 people.

In the Media

Queering Family Photography was well-received in the media. It was hailed as a “must-see” exhibition of the Scotiabank CONTACT Photography Festival in Canadian Art and theToronto Star. Associate Editor of Canadian Art, Yaniya Lee, wrote:

“Growing up, I rarely saw representations of my own, two-momed type of family unit. For a long time I had the odd sense that these kinships were strange, illegitimate or shameful. […] IMHO, portrayals of alternative family structures like these, so seldom given a space to be visible, can shift our perception of what a ‘normal’ family should look like.”

— Yaniya Lee, Canadian Art, 26 April 2018

Art critic Murray Whyte drew a connection between The Family Camera (Royal Ontario Museum, 2017) and Queering Family Photography, and noted that the images on display were, “warm in their simple truth – of the intimacy and comfort of nearest and dearest, a universal necessity that knows no gender or orientation.” Interviews with lead curator Elspeth Brown were also featured on Metro Morning, Toronto Life, Yohomo: Toronto Queer Culture Now, and CBC Arts.

INSTALLATION OF SUNIL GUPTA: FRIENDS AND LOVERS (IN THE FOREGROUND) AND QUEERING FAMILY PHOTOGRAPHY (IN THE BACKGROUND). PHOTO: M. KASUMOVIC, 2018.

INSTALLATION OF SUNIL GUPTA: FRIENDS AND LOVERS (IN THE FOREGROUND) AND QUEERING FAMILY PHOTOGRAPHY (IN THE BACKGROUND). PHOTO: M. KASUMOVIC, 2018.

Foolscap Sheds Light on a History of Anti-LGBTQ Police Violence

Foolscap / gay history
foolscap-blog-pic

The Foolscap Oral History project is a rich collection of over 100 interviews recorded with gay men throughout the 1980s that tells the story of LGBTQ life in Toronto in the pre-Stonewall era.

The interviewees of this project cover a wide array of topics in their narratives such as activism, relationships, and social life; together, these stories serve to set the scene for gay Toronto in a time when queer identities were much more marginalized than in the present. In particular, these interviews illustrate a social context heavily marked by police surveillance, harassment, and brutality that heavily impacted and informed the ways in which LGBTQ individuals in the city got together throughout the 20th century.

The Toronto Police Department has a long history of regulating the activities of individuals in public and private spaces throughout the city. Notably, the work of the police’s Morality Department was instrumental in policing and criminalizing the sexual lives of men and women. While this department had been in charge of overseeing morality in the city since the end of the 19th century, Norman Clarkson, one of the interviewees, notes that by the end of World War Two the police seemed to have a much greater interest in persecuting gay individuals. Mary Louise Adams, professor of Sociology at Queen’s University, explains that the rapidly changing socio-economic landscape of postwar Canada and the pressures and tensions of a growing city led to increased efforts by city officials to regulate public spaces and ensure that Torontonians behaved according to the social norms of the times.

Indeed, the participants of the Foolscap project recall a number of avenues employed by the police to harass gay men in public and private spaces. One interviewee mentioned being stopped by a police officer while driving in drag under the false pretence of speeding through Yonge Street. Since the information on their ID didn’t match their gender presentation at the time of the encounter, they were taken to the police station where the police verbally and physically assaulted them. In addition to this violence, the interviewee also mentions how officers would rip their fake eyelashes and remove their wigs in the effort to mock their femininity and gender presentation.

This kind of gendered aggression has been a common feature of queer and trans engagements with the police. Russell Alldread recalls how, in Toronto, officers would routinely drive gay men and transgender sex workers to Cherry Beach where they would often beat them and remove their clothes and belongings, leaving them to find a way back to the city on their own. Furthermore, another interviewee by the name of Tony Brady mentions how the police would tease sex workers and frantically try to come up with charges against them in the hopes of removing them from city streets.

Tony also mentions how police officers would constantly interrupt gay people in their attempts to socialize and get together. Not only did this take the form of raids at parties and events, but police officers would also stop same-sex couples and demand that they walked in opposite directions so as to avoid any further engagements between them. While Tony argues that the decriminalization of homosexuality in 1969 had a positive impact in avoiding issues such as the institutionalization of gay people, he exclaims that this didn’t change police attitudes in the city. Karsten Kossman describes these attitudes against gay people at the time as “off the wall”, noting that the police’s efforts to avoid gay socialization in the city went as far as exacerbating tensions and rifts between existing gay organizations in the city by vocally supporting one side over another, inevitably putting its members against each other.  

The stories shared by the participants of the Foolscap project serve to provide an image of early gay life in Toronto, as the advances of our modern times can make us forget that gay life in the city didn’t always happen so easily. Moreover, these narratives serve to contextualize the relationship between the city’s LGBTQ community and the police department, especially given the recent tensions arising from their participation in the Pride parade and their alleged inaction when handling a number of LGBTQ deaths. As these debates often get dehistoricized and depoliticized in popular discourse, being mindful of the history of LGBTQ resistance against police brutality allows us to stay true to our struggle and grow stronger as a community.

Doug is a Master of Arts candidate at the Department of Geography and Mark S. Bonham Centre for Sexual Diversity Studies at the University of Toronto.

References

Adams, M. L. (1994). Almost Anything Can Happen: A Search for Sexual Discourse in the Urban Spaces of 1940s Toronto. The Canadian Journal of Sociology, 19(2). pp. 217-232.

Digitizing Archival Cassette Tapes: A Brief How-To

Uncategorized
Image caption: Interview with John Nixon, one of the cassette tapes housed at the Canadian Lesbian and Gay Archives in the Foolscap fonds. Cassette label reads “Toronto Nov. 7/1982 side one of 1st taped interview with John N., convicted boy lover & homosexual”.

Between 1981 and 1986, The Foolscap Gay Oral History Project collected over 100 oral histories with Canadian gay men born in the first half of the 20th century. These interviews, conducted by John Grube and Lionel Collier, were informed by conditions contemporaneous to the project: Operation Soap (police harassment of gay men), HIV/ AIDS, and the proliferation of queer community spaces and groups in Toronto.

These interviews were originally recorded on cassette tapes, which have been recently collected by the LGBTQ Oral History Digital Collaboratory and deposited at  the Canadian Lesbian and Gay Archives (CLGA). In the last year, the Collaboratory has digitized and archived 100+ interviews, housed on over 100 cassette tapes.

In the process of archiving these cassette tapes, the Collaboratory has also developed guides outlining best practices for digitizing audio off of cassette tapes. This blog post is intended to offer you basic step-by-step instructions for cassette tape digitization, and some helpful hints and tips.

Your digitization set-up should involve three main hardware components: a cassette deck, your audio interface, and your computer. The cassette deck reads the cassette tape and outputs audio, the audio interface channels this audio from the deck to your computer, and the computer is where you will store your audio as a digital file. At the CLGA, the Collaboratory uses a Behringer UCA202 USB/Audio Interface, but there are many other options for audio interfaces out there. So, your audio will flow out the cassette deck, into the audio interface, and then out the audio interface and into your computer.

 

The VHS and cassette decks at the Nancy Nicol Digitization and Viewing Station at the CLGA.

The VHS and cassette decks at the Nancy Nicol Digitization and Viewing Station at the CLGA.

 

You also need two pieces of software installed on your computer prior to digitization: your audio interface’s drivers and audio editing software. We recommend Audacity for audio editing: the program is totally free, very stable and user friendly, offers noise reduction.

Before digitizing any cassette tape, one should always inspect the tape. Make sure there is no visible dirt or debris on the tape. Manually turn the spindles a few times using a pencil and make sure they turn freely. If you have any concerns about the condition of the tape, set it aside. Playing a dirty tape in your cassette deck can permanently damage the tape and the deck.

Next, determine whether the tape you are digitizing has been recorded using Dolby Noise Reduction. To do this, put the tape in your cassette deck and listen to the tape while toggling Dolby NR on and off. If the audio signal sounds like it has lost high frequency response when the Dolby NR switch is ON, then make sure the switch is set to OFF when digitizing.

Now, you can open your audio editing software. Make sure your input is set to your audio interface. Begin recording on your audio editing software, and press play on your cassette deck. The software will begin recording the tape, and you can listen as it records real time via your audio output of choice. It is important that you listen to the recording through the computer, not the interface or deck, so you are hearing the quality of your digital version. Continue to monitor the sound until the end of the tape; avoid leaving the recording unattended unless necessary.

Once your tape is done playing, stop the recording. You are now ready to edit and save your digital audio recording! If you plan on putting the audio through post-production (ie. noise reduction, clipping, etc.), we recommend first saving an unedited, preservation-quality master file.

Depending on your equipment and software, the details of this process may change. However, the workflow should remain generally the same. We hope that this guide is relatively helpful, and wish you the best of luck with your archival audio digitization endeavours!

Trans Oral Histories: the Transgender History Project of the Upper Midwest

archiving oral history / trans history

I realize that even though the website has a fantastic collection of websites concerning LGBTQ oral history, put together by Cait McKinney, I have not actually had the time to go through them all, and reflect on what they offer. I’m in the process of putting together a new course on Queer and Trans Oral History, and this seems like a perfect moment to explore some of these sites and reflect on some of their capacities and limitations. Rather than proceed alphabetically, I’ve decided to move forward thematically. My first theme, therefore, will be “trans oral history,” something I’ve spent a fair amount of time on myself. The first link I’ve accessed on my own page is already problematic: Access Minnesota Transgender History Project is, apparently, a link not to the project but instead to the Access Minnesota (a weekly news program) website’s interview about the project. In this 2015 interview, the host discusses the project with Lisa Vecoli, curator of the Tretter Collection of GLBT Studies at the University of Minnesota’s libraries, soon after the Tretter Collection received a grant to collect oral histories of trans people in the upper Midwest. Lisa describes the beginnings of the Tretter Collection, which began with activist Gene Tretter’s major collection of LGBT materials and their donation to the University in 2000 (3,000 linear feet of material, a major collection). They have personal records; organization records; performers; authors; activists; published materials as well, including 16,000 issues of periodicals. Lisa is a very clear interviewee, providing excellent detail, even though her interviewer is so peculiar, at least to my ears. She’s exceptionally well-prepared, using the interview as an opportunity to describe what the collections offer. Lisa describes how she’s trying to create a more intersectional approach to the archives, which at the point of the interview in 2015, was mostly white and gay male. In response to student interest, she’s trying to expand the archive to include more trans voices and stories, to use her terms. She submitted a grant to the Tawani Foundation, and it was successful: the goal is to collect 400 hours of oral histories about trans experience in the upper Midwest.Tretter Collection

When we first put the Collaboratory website together, this important project had only a Facebook page—important for spreading the word about the project, and recruiting narrators, but not so helpful in terms of accessing the interviews. Now, in late 2017/early 2018, the interviews have been archived at the University of Minnesota’s Media Archive. Currently, the site has 55 interviews available, some of them with well-known people such as Eli Clare, Kate Bornstein, and Dr. Walter Bockting. Most of the interviews are with upper Midwest folks who I’ve never heard of—not that it matters.

As some readers know, the main interviewer for this project is Andrea Jenkins, a black trans woman who is a poet and performance artist and, most recently in 2017, was elected to Minneapolis’ City Council (the first black, openly trans woman to be elected to public office in the US). I attended one of Andrea’s performances at the last Moving Trans History Forward conference in 2016, and was completely blown away. I tried to chat her up with a bit of fan girl action, but she was having none of it. I am sure she had more interesting people to spend time with there. Sigh.

Like the NYC Tran Oral History Project, a partnership with the NY Public Library, the interviews are presented on the site via tiles—a grid of trans people, photographed at the site of the interview (or perhaps they are video stills, taken from the interviews themselves.). I find this presentation of oral histories both compelling and creepy. Compelling, because the faces of all these trans people does solicit my viewing engagement, but creepy because the grid reproduces the logic of the taxonomic gaze, which is the last thing that a trans-positive project would want to reference. However, it’s fair to say that most viewers wouldn’t make this somewhat arcane critique, and having a visual representation of the narrators in an organized mode probably trumps all else. The interviews are listed by name of narrator, such as “Interview with Monica Cross”—the historian in me wants to know the date, right away, as part of the title. However, once one clicks on the interview, one is brought to the metadata page, where all this information is clearly available.

Each interview links to a video of the interview; a transcript in PDF; and to the interview metadata. In the interview with Dee Dee Chamblee, Andrea Jenkins in interviewing in Anderson Georgia. The sound is odd—Dee Dee has a lav mic on, but Andrea’s sound is echoey, not via a lav mic. Even Dee Dee’s sound seems muffled for some reason. Visually, Dee Dee is centered in the frame, rather than off to the side, in the 1/3 and 2/3 approach to framing the shot. The camera shot is also wide, in that the shot takes in quite a fair amount of extraneous material, such as the large door to her left; if it were me, I’d focus a bit more on Dee Dee, so that she’d fill up more of the frame. (Readers are probably wondering why I am focusing on all the technical stuff, but it’s because I’ve been doing a lot of interviews for Family Camera Network, and so thinking about these things.) The sound is really quite bad…is it like this for other interviews, I wonder. (The interview with Jamison Green, done in 2016, has better sound). I’m reviewing an interview Andrea did with Jane Fee in St. Petersburg, FL. The framing is similar and the sound is also a bit problematic too. I wonder why, as the set up looks fine. Jane and Andrea are old friends; they’ve known each other for 25 years. Andrea starts the interview with an interesting question: what was Jane’s earliest memory? Quite a compelling way to begin the interview, which is how (apparently) she’s been starting many of them. This interview is 2 hrs and 39 minutes. I am 4 minutes into it, and already I am thinking about switching to another interview. Why in the world is this the case? What Jane is actually saying is quite interesting. Do I have 21st century ADHD, no longer able to sit through something so long unless it’s highly produced? If this is the case, then what are we doing with these oral history projects?

I’ve looked at 3 interviews, and they are in different locations—Georgia, Florida, and Victoria, BC; clearly Andrea does these interviews as she travels. So what is the relationship to Minnesota and the Upper Midwest? Has the mission broadened from the original grant? This often happens. It would be a good thing for transgender history if she is interviewing more broadly.

Where Once Stood a Bandstand for Cruising & Shelter

Uncategorized

This past weekend, Toronto was alive throughout the night for Nuit Blanche, an annual night-time arts festival. The city was transformed by four large-scale exhibitions installed across the city that brought together contemporary art reflecting on revolution, activism, indigeneity and futurity. Carried out as a part of the “Taking to the Streets” exhibition for Nuit Blanche Toronto 2017, interdisciplinary artist (and CLGA volunteer!) Hazel Meyer dropped banners throughout the night from the stop of a scaffold on Queen’s Park Circle. Marked with different “lists and quotes, single words and wordplay, and stories,” Meyers explains that the banners represent “a conversation rather than a demand, the pulse of the horizontal text evokes the multiple, desiring political bodies working inside or on the periphery of Queen’s Park.” It is a work that places the complex histories of Queen’s Park–from the statues and bandstands to the protests and cruising–into conversation with urban renewal and gentrification, symbolized by the scaffolding.

Hazel's piece for Nuit Blanche Sept 30, 2017: photo by ELspeth Brown; this came out of the research on Foolscap and Desh that the Collaboratory did in May 2017. Especially Zohar Freeman.Photograph of Where Once Stood a Bandstand for Cruising & Shelter for Nuit Blanche, 30 September 2017. (Credit: Elspeth Brown)

Titled Where Once Stood a Bandstand for Cruising & Shelter, the installation draws on archival information that was uncovered from the Foolscap Oral History Project during our scholars-in-residence program. The community-driven oral history project, led by John Grube and Lionel Collier in the early 1980s, produced nearly 100 interviews with Canadian gay men in their social circles who were born in the first half of the 20th century. Digitizing the countless cassette tapes, Zohar Freeman–one of the students scholars–recounted how the interviewees talked about the bandstand previously located at Queen’s Park as one of the city’s key spaces for gay cruising and public sex. It was working with the Desh Pardesh archive and thinking through the overlapping histories of British imperialism in Canada and India that we reflected on the five-ton equestrian statue of King Edward VII (donated by the Indian government through its own decolonization program) that led to the dismantling of the bandstand in 1969. It now makes us wonder: what archival material might let us glean beyond the built environment of settlers and re-think “Queen’s Park”? As the CLGA transitions into an active collecting institution, there is a desire to think outside settler time, infrastructure and queerness. Meyer’s work leads us to the bandstand, compelling us to think about how our queer shelters from the storm of state violence have been taken down and providing us with the impetus to think queer politics and activism afresh.

Zine Digitization and Accessibility

Uncategorized

A potential benefit of digitizing zines is increasing their accessibility. While a physical copy of Mirha-Soleil Ross’ gendertrash from hell might be hard to come by for many people in 2017, putting a high quality scan of the zine online makes it accessible to anyone with an internet connection, right? Not really.

Depending on the context, “access” can take on very different meanings. I think we should think critically about what it means to make something accessible and who is included in what we define as accessible. Having a zine online does increase accessibility in certain ways, however, folks with certain mobility limitations which prevent the use of a mouse or keyboard, people who are blind or have low-vision, or other disabilities may not be able to access an online PDF version of a zine. There are, however, digital tools which can be used to make PDFs more accessible. Thinking about accessibility as at once an ongoing practice (nothing is ever “fully accessible”) and a collective responsibility, we have been experimenting with some of these tools at the Collaboratory and CLGA.

A rectangular image with a white background. In the centre of the image is a row of six faceless abstract figures in black which are connected together with outstretched arms. Between and around the figures are many irregular black shapes.

“Dancing Wimmin” by Jeanne B, from gendertrash issue #1, p. 9. Alt text: A rectangular image with a white background. In the centre of the image is a row of six faceless abstract figures in black which are connected together with outstretched arms. Between and around the figures are many irregular black shapes.

After creating high-quality scans of all four issues of gendertrash, we ran the PDF’s through Abbyy OCR software. This software is incredibly easy to use, it automatically analyzes a PDF and recognizes (mostly correctly) which areas of the page are images and which are text. The text can then be utilized by screen reader software, which verbalizes digital texts.

Next, we are working on adding alt text image descriptions to the images within gendertrash. You can add alt text to a PDF using Adobe Acrobat. These image descriptions will also be read by screen readers, providing the listener a fuller engagement with the zine. Writing clear and comprehensive image descriptions is surprisingly challenging, especially as many of the cut-and-paste images in gendertrash are quite abstract. However, I think it’s important to take on accessibility as a collective practice and continue working towards increasing accessibility in digital humanities projects. This is just a starting point, and I have much more to learn about digital accessibility, so I am looking forward to feedback and suggestions.

Some Thoughts on Michelle Mohabeer’s Child-Play (1997)

Uncategorized

TW: Description of a film that deals with child abuse

Some Thoughts on Child-Play: a self indulgent rant by an over-eager cinema student

We’ve been struggling to make our digital exhibition on SAVAC’s Not a Place on the Map Desh Pardesh oral history project more visual. The oral history interviews are riveting, but as an audience, it’d be hard to stay interested in around 36 hours of raw tapes. I was surprised and excited to come across Michelle Mohabeer’s work, especially Child-Play (1997). Mohabeer is one of the artists interviewed for the oral history project, and her work is a touchstone for many other interviewed artists who were involved in Desh.

Child-Play was a well-received film that depicts a girl who is terrorized by a Dutch man, who becomes a symbol for colonialism through the film. What struck me, aside from the way Mohabeer expertly crafts mood and space through manipulation of light and depth, was the way she portrayed violence to a child, on-screen.

Caption: Stills from Child-Play (1997), dir. Michelle Mohabeer. In the first still, the Dutch man steals the girl’s soul. In the second, she confronts him as an old woman, and eventually banishes him from her mind.

Stills from Child-Play (1997), dir. Michelle Mohabeer. In the first still, the Dutch man steals the girl’s soul. In the second, she confronts him as an old woman, and eventually banishes him from her mind.

This kind of representation interests me (I’ve seen Mysterious Skin (Araki, 2004) too many times). I must say at the outset that the strongest argument against portraying violence against children is that one must hire a child to act that scene and of course, this is not something I condone. The other, more persistent argument is that portraying child abuse – especially sexual abuse – makes the viewer complicit in the act. That is, to be interested in viewing this material, one gains as much pleasure as the perpetrator. I find this argument less convincing for many reasons, but the first still from this film approaches this in a unique way. By forcing us to view the child’s soul being taken away from above, Mohabeer emphasizes our role as a spectator. We can see everything, but do nothing.

Of course, Mohabeer is restricted in what she can film and the violence is only implied, but its effects are the same – we’re helpless and bound to our voyeurism. What makes this scene important is the redemption which comes at the end. Because Mohabeer could portray this moment, we’re able to follow the woman on her journey to confront her demons. She can give me, as a racialized subject, the feeling of power and closure. This argument is similar to the argument for depictions of (implied) child abuse. Filmic representation is a way to heal.

I initially came to this digital collections project wanting to look into film and representation, to complement my cinema studies degree. I enjoyed Child-Play because it reminded me of why I took this project on in the first place. As a racialized child, a film like this would’ve helped me to put words to the powerlessness I felt. Even the indication that there were others who felt the same way would’ve helped. I hope our digital collection can help others access this kind of history and to create the kind of resources I wish were around when I was growing up.

Touring SAVAC and Vtape

Uncategorized

And update from Amal Khurram, who is participating in the undergraduate Scholars in Residence Digital Collections lab in partnership with the Canadian Lesbian and Gay Archives.

Scholars in Residence group pose in the SAVAC / Vtape archives. (L to R) Mac Stewart, Amal Khurram, Caleigh Inman, Saj Soomal (SAVAC), Alisha Krishna, Zohar Freeman, Cait McKinney.

Scholars in Residence group pose in the SAVAC / Vtape archives. (L to R) Mac Stewart, Amal Khurram, Caleigh Inman, Saj Soomal (SAVAC), Alisha Krishna, Zohar Freeman, Cait McKinney.

On May 17 our group went to visit the 401 Richmond building for a tour of the South Asian Visual Arts Centre (SAVAC) and Vtape. These organizations are central to two of the digital collections we have been working on. The Not a Place on the Map Desh Pardesh festival oral history project that Alisha Krishna and I are working on was produced by SAVAC. The gendertrash zine collection that Caleigh Inman, Mac Stewart, and Sid Cunnigham are making was edited by Mirha-Soleil Ross, whose video art is distributed by Vtape.

I thought it was interesting to see where the magic of community archiving really happens—this is where people on the ground are creating history for archives like CLGA. We were given the opportunity to leaf through some SAVAC materials that weren’t accessible to us at the CLGA, and it was interesting to spot some familiar names amongst the collected work.

Deirdre Logue introduces the Vtape archives to Zohar Freeman and Alisha Krishna.

Deirdre Logue introduces the Vtape archives to Zohar Freeman and Alisha Krishna.

The polished Desh Pardesh festival flyers and pamphlets that we got to look through were an interesting contrast from the unfiltered interview personas we have encountered through oral history interviews. Pamphlets and other promotional materials are the end product of several revisions by coordinators and funders, and they reflect broader politics and tensions behind putting on a large festival.

What we have in the interviews is everything but this and it’s interesting to see the contrasting elements of the Desh Pardesh festival. Seeing all these print documents related to the festival shows how much larger the world of the event was than it might seem from listening to interviews, decades down the line. Learning all this while standing in the vicinity of where it all went down was truly an experience.

Walking down the staircase in the 401 building’s outdoor courtyard.

Walking down the staircase in the 401 building’s outdoor courtyard.

Affect in the Mirha-Soleil Ross Archive

Uncategorized

Archival objects can be powerful and moving. When they are centred around LGBTQ people, they can bring hope and joy. Some objects found  in the Mirha-Soleil Ross fonds demonstrates this hopefulness to me.

In her collection Mirha-Soleil Ross donated some pictures that were professionally taken of her and her partner at the time, Xanthra Phillippa MacKay. When Ms. Ross donated the photos to the CLGA, she attached a note requesting that we digitize them soon, showing their precious status to her.

Photograph of two white trans women embracing and looking at the camera.

Photo of Mirha-Soleil Ross and Xanthra Phillipa MacKay, 1993. Photo grapher: Jennifer O’Connor. See Mirha-Soleil Ross digital collections: http://digitalcollections.clga.ca/exhibits/show/gendertrash/item/870

The amount of bravery it took to be queer and trans in the 1990s and before astounds me, especially since many trans people were fighting to deny that queerness was intrinsically linked to transness. The idea of trans normativity has been rampant for many years in the queer and trans community. This essentially means policing other trans people’s identities and making them palatable for the general straight and cis public (Matte, 126).

As a queer trans person, Ms. Ross and Ms. MacKay’s bravery and activism inspires me over twenty years later as I recognize those who paved the way and came before me.

Source Cited:
Matte, Nicholas.  “Rupert Raj, Transmen and Sexuality: The Politics of Transnormativity in Metamorphosis Magazine during the 1980s,” We Still Demand: Redefining Resistance in Sex and Gender Struggles, ed. Patrizia Gentile and Gary Kinsman (UBC Press, 2017):117-137.