2018 UCLA MLIS MAS graduate and 2017-2018 UCLA AMIA Co-President Jon Naveh discusses his experiences processing erotic material for the UCLA Film & TV Archive and CSUN. This article expands upon a presentation that was given on April 27, 2018 at UCLA for the Los Angeles Archivists Collective’s (LAAC) Archives Now! Conference. This article appeared as part of LAAC’s Acid Free Magazine No. 8 “Sex” Issue. You can read more about Jon’s experience processing the Pat Rocco Collection here.
In my Archives Now! presentation, I discussed what it was like to process erotica as an intern at different archives. Through these internships, I processed a wide range of erotic materials, in formats as diverse as paper-based promotional film ephemera, small gauge amateur films and home movies, and scrapbooks comprised of pornographic magazine clippings. My Archives Now! presentation also addressed how knowledge of provenance aids archivists when processing these unique kinds of collections.
Within the realm of archives, erotic and pornographic collections have historically been sidelined and infrequently discussed. This deficiency has manifested in academic as well as professional spaces. A few articles in LIS and the nascent field of Porn Studies have attempted to rectify this absence by exploring the contexts in which pornographic and erotic collections proliferate. Many of these collections, when properly processed and cataloged, are able to connect with researchers through their historical and cultural value. Often though, these assets exist within broad collecting institutions, which may be ill equipped to process such materials. Some of these institutions might not wish to publicize that they possess erotica, nor do they mandate providing access to these assets due to their controversial nature. Luckily, this is not always the case. Repositories such as the UCLA Film & TV Archive, the ONE Archive, and CSUN, have taken great pride in their collections, and thus prioritize the archival, academic, and cultural value of porn.
In the summer of 2017, I interned at the UCLA Film & Television Archive. I was hired as a Project Processing Archivist and tasked with identifying unidentified elements in the Pat Rocco Collection. Rocco’s amazing Collection is part of the Outfest UCLA Legacy Project—a partnership between Outfest, the world’s leading LGBTQ Film Festival, and the UCLA Film & TV Archive. To date, this partnership is “the only program in the world exclusively dedicated to preserving lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender moving images at risk of becoming lost due to deterioration and neglect.”
Rocco’s small gauge (8 mm, Super 8, and 16 mm) film collection chronicles a vast array of cultural topics. They include documentary demonstration footage of the burgeoning LGBTQ rights movement in 1960s Southern California, as well as gay erotic narrative shorts (also filmed around the greater Los Angeles area). Rocco captured pivotal gay rights moments and protests throughout LA (including the first First Gay Pride Parade) and also filmed portions of Harvey Milk’s infamous “Hope Speech.”
Through his gay erotic shorts, Rocco built a huge fan-base. And because he had the means to facilitate exhibition (he owned his own movie theater), he regularly programmed his own movies and even held “Pat Rocco” film festivals. During this time period, it was very unusual for amateur filmmakers, let alone gay filmmakers hoping to screen gay films to a gay audience, to operate at such a luxurious level of control. It is these two modes of filmmaking (documentary and erotica), although quite different in form, intent, and style, which equally define Rocco. Rocco has since retired from filmmaking; however, his legacy as a trailblazing figure has been secured within the LGBTQ community and beyond.
In recent years, scholarship on Pat Rocco has proliferated—much of it has corresponded with the Legacy Project’s preservation of Rocco’s film collection. Whitney Strub, a Porn Studies scholar, History professor, and director of the Women’s & Gender Studies Program at Rutgers University-Newark has documented the significance of Rocco’s work. Rocco himself has been quite vocal about promoting and preserving his legacy, and has thus conducted oral histories with the ONE National Gay & Lesbian Archives. Rocco has also had retrospectives at UCLA and the DGA, and has been the subject of discussion by other LGBTQ publications like The Pride.
As an archivist, I found it easy to research Rocco’s history, political context, film elements, and impact on cinema history and gay rights. In fact, there there was no shortage of information—it was a researcher’s dream. UCLA/Outfest had prepared a vast inventory list, while the Online Archive of California made information on the collection accessible in the form of a finding aid. Additionally, Pat Rocco’s papers and photographs have been preserved and made digitally accessible through a collaboration between the ONE Archive and USC Digital Library. A robust finding aid was created for this collection as well. This wealth of information aided me during my internship, as I tried to identify film titles, figures/actors, geographic spaces, date ranges, and so on. As such, I worried less about gleaning information and more on learning a physical trade: how to inspect and repair small gauge films.
In fall of 2017, I worked at California State University, Northridge as a Visual Resources Intern. I assisted the university’s Special Collections & Archive, which is located at Oviatt Library. One interesting fact about CSUN’s vast archival holdings is that they have the 2nd-largest sex archive in the world (second only to the Kinsey Institute). Much of CSUN’s sex archive was gifted as the Bullough Collection (named after two nationally-known professors of sociology and human sexuality). This collection consists of over 8,000 items as diverse as papers and manuscripts, romance novels, porn scrapbooks, paintings, photographs, “how-to DVD’s,” and other erotic artifacts.
At CSUN, I processed the Robert E. Mueller Scrapbook Collection. Dr. Robert E. Mueller, another LA local, has practiced psychophysical therapy since 1979, when he opened his massage therapy private practice. He holds various licenses and credentials in massage therapy and is also avidly involved in and infatuated by the Tarot. Mueller intermittently taught advanced massage therapy at Glendale Career College, and instructed and co-published manuscripts on the topic of Tarot spirituality.
The Robert E. Mueller (REM) collection consists of 19 photo-album style scrapbooks. Each of these scrapbooks contains erotic images of nude models or pornographic images of graphic sexual activity. The scrapbooks occasionally feature gay and lesbian content, however they predominantly follow a heterosexual and heteronormative framework. All of the images seem to have been cut out from erotic and pornographic magazines, and appear to span from the early 1960s through the late 1980s. Interestingly, the clippings (and by proxy, the scrapbooks) were sorted by topic/theme and arranged by the creator in a very precise way. For example, one scrapbook might focus explicitly on a specific sexual act or anatomic part, while other scrapbooks might feature multiple (similar) themes or variances on a sexual position.
I found it quite challenging to process the REM scrapbooks. There was a shortage of information, both on Mueller as a figure as well as other parameters of his collection. This stood in stark contrast to the great wealth of resources supplementing Pat Rocco and his collection at UCLA. I was regularly left pondering over aspects of the REM collection, such as its historical use and provenance, creation intent, and meticulous arrangement. Unfortunately, CSUN Special Collections had sparse paperwork documenting the donation/depositor agreement between Mueller and the university. As such, their archivists could not readily reveal the full scope of the collection and its idiosyncratic creator.
As a special collections intern, I was tasked with creating detailed processing plans and finding aids for the collection, even though I had little information on the scrapbooks and their contexts. I lacked the resources needed to identify the publication sources of the clippings as well as the many models pictured throughout the scrapbooks. Moreover, I could not identify when the scrapbooks were created—although I could apply a broad date range—nor could I confirm whether they were created over a long period of time. I also never concluded whether Mueller had at any point been assisted (it is no easy task to create 19 photo-album style scrapbooks!). Finally, I was left unsure whether the scrapbooks were used in Dr. Mueller’s private practice, or if they were created at an earlier point in his life (i.e., as a peek into the therapist’s eventual fascination with human form and sexuality). Although I eventually contacted Dr. Mueller, our interaction still left many questions unanswered.
Due to the limited scope of available information, the REM finding aid relied upon surface level observation for the collection’s biographical and content notes. Unfortunately, lack of relevant information will affect archivist’s and researcher’s ability to parse context and value from the collection. The graphic nature of the scrapbooks also informed my work deliverables. For example, my Special Collections supervisors and I could not agree upon a common vocabulary to describe the individual scrapbooks and the sexual acts depicted within them. Interestingly, the scrapbooks had already been described in great detail by a previous processor (who affixed post-it notes with graphic descriptions to each scrapbook’s cover). We debated over using certain terms, as we wanted to accurately represent the scrapbooks, however, we also wanted to avoid using archaic or offensive words. In the end, we conceded that naming scrapbook folders after their contents was counterintuitive. Instead, the folders were arbitrarily numbered, however we still honored the individual scrapbook’s original order and arrangement.
Overall, I really enjoyed processing the Robert E. Mueller and Pat Rocco Collections. Working on them forced me to become more attentive as a researcher and handler of pornographic materials, and I learned a great deal by engaging with the unique questions brought forth by each collection. I’m still thrilled that, so early in my archival career, I was given an opportunity to contribute to the preservation and access of these erotic elements.
Jonathan Naveh currently works as a Processing Archivist at the Academy’s Margaret Herrick Library. He is a graduate of UCLA’s MLIS program, and as a student interned at the Herrick, the UCLA Film & Television Archive, CSUN Special Collections & Archive, and UCLA Library’s Audiovisual Preservation Studio. Naveh is also interested in the history of film preservation, media archive education, and the archival contexts of surveillance.
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Duong, Joseph Lam. “California Hard Core.” PhD diss., University of California, Berkeley, 2014.
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Strub, Whitney. “Mondo Rocco: Mapping Gay Los Angeles Sexual Geography in the Late-1960s Films of Pat Rocco.” Radical History Review. Vol. 2012, no. 113 (2012): 13-34.
Swanson, Dwight. “Home Viewing: Pornography and Amateur Film Collections, A Case Study.” The Moving Image. Vol. 5, no. 02 (2005): 136-140.