Tim Dean, Steven Ruszczycky and David Squires in 2014 edited the anthology Porn Archives (Duke University Press) with various academic articles about porn collections and archives. Dean states that the archive has helped pornography to become a legitimate modern cultural enterprise: Porn has become a site for the production of knowledge, as well as the production of pleasure… as it crosses borders, transforms technologies, consolidates sexual identities, and challenges notions of what counts as legitimate forms of knowledge.”[i]
When I arrived in Los Angeles I visited the University of Southern California’s One National Gay and Lesbian Archives to scout for pre-digital sources of queer pornography. Many of the collections are male homosexual materials, including the collection Underground Erotic Graphics and Literature, which is hand-written by anonymous writers and mostly for inner-circle distribution. You can take a look at Andrew Guthrie's blog post about this collection. I looked out for materials that focused on sexually explicit representations of queer women’s sexuality. I had made an appointment and one of the librarians kindly helped me locate a vast array of magazines. I had no clear research goal in mind. I was greatly relieved when I was told that I could take photographs of these magazines for my personal reference. This would be a treat for anybody who is doing visual culture reserach and vaguely believes in "erotology" the study of sexuality by means of sexually explicit materials and artforms.
I found a small book called A Woman’s Touch, edited by Cedar and Nelly, in which we can find a striking collection of “centerfold” photos and drawings by Tee Corinne (Grant Pass Oregon, 1981) There were the Samois newsletters that later resulted in the anthology Coming to Power, Writings and Graphics on Lesbian S/M, edited by members of Samois. Some artists such as those of the magazine Sapphic Touch set out to produce a "healing" type of erotica and believe that pornography has caused harm.There were the complete set of On Our Backs magazines (Entertainment for the Adventurous Lesbian, 1984-2006), which were started by Nan Kinney of Fatale Media and intended to be a response-magazine to the porn-negative feminist porn journal Off Our Backs.
On Our Backs magazine has an unusual type of photography that partially adopts conventional porn aesthetics (like the centerfold) and partially allows for a refreshing DIY aesthetic. The magazine also contains literary diaries, articles about censorship and lesbian women's “gay” sex habits (eg Tristan Taormino’s article “Handballing, It is not just for Fag anymore"; Rachel Venning’s “Rim Like a Gay Boy”) .There are personal ads and entrepreneurial promos for women who are starting out small businesses. Amongst the many issues we find a gem of a photo-shoots by Annie Sprinkle of the model “Jocelyn.” We also have a photo of the young Jack Halberstam showing off his tattoo. I am always on the lookout for Asian-American models and found a cute photo of the stripper Dawn Tan as well as a cover with the young Celia Tan pulling off someone’s panties with her mouth. Besides these issues of On Our Backs, I also found smaller magazines that had a special focus on African-American women such as Black Lace Magazine: lesbian erotica magazine for and by African American women and Quicksand: African American lesbian erotica.
In an ordinary library, a researcher could fee uncomfortable looking at hundreds of porn mags while taking photographs, but seated at one of the comfortable wooden tables of this pleasant archive, I experienced high scholarly satisfaction.
When going through the selection of magazines, I was also thinking about how different pornography has become today. In my 2007 book Netporn: DIY Web Culture and Sexual Politics (MD: Rowman and Littlefield) I have detailed this transition from mid-90s feminist erotica and “zine” culture to the netporn culture and sites like Shine Louise Houston Crashpad Series.
[i] Tim Dean describes the book project on https://www.dukeupress.edu/porn-archives (accessed 5 march 2016)
Feel free to move around the stack of magazines below