KMDI Partners with Bonham Centre’s Sexual Representation Collection to Digitally Archive Adult Film History

The preservation and study of adult film history entail a number of challenges. The material often falls outside of the collecting and preservation mission of traditional libraries and archives. This may be a result of conservative institutional politics, and/or the low priority that archivists sometimes attach to pornography. In addition, the adult film industry often leaves behind a thin paper trail. When compounded by the usual financial barriers to conducting research, this presents a distinct set of serious accessibility problems for scholars in the field.

The Sexual Representation Collection (SRC) at the Bonham Centre for Sexual Diversity Studies is one of the few archives specializing in this material. In order to enrich and maintain the archive, Prof. Patrick Keilty works to preserve the vulnerable materials housed at the Bonham Centre and build upon the access scholars have to this collection. Without these efforts, important material within the history of media and film generally, and the distinct histories of sexuality and commerce specifically, will be lost to scholars.

The SRC is Canada’s largest archive of adult film history. The collection contains roughly 4,000 VHS videocassettes and DVDs, 1,000 magazines, 500 pulp novels, hundreds of 35mm slides, digital files, 8mm film, 8mm cassette tapes, and 267 linear feet of personal papers, legal documents, reports, art, kink objects, and unique ephemera dating from the 1950s to the present. It has a particular emphasis on queer, feminist, and kink pornography. Among its many highlights, the SRC contains commercially produced VHS tapes from India and Pakistan, a collection of Japanese-language materials, and commercially produced gay male pornography from Mexico. In addition, the SRC preserves the history of socio-legal regulation of sex work, sexual representation, and sex education in Canada. Recently, the SRC has acquired the collections of two film historians, Chuck Kleinhans (Northwestern University, USA) and Tom Waugh (Concordia University, Canada).

Thanks to KMDI’s support, along with the University of Toronto Libraries and the Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council, the SRC is able to digitize an important archive of adult film history.  Then the material can be made available worldwide to scholars who may not otherwise have access to this vast collection. Much of this media has been produced in Canada and will be made digitally available to researchers and the broader public for the first time. While copyright will prevent the Bonham Centre from making some of these materials available online, it will make some material available as part of the Adult Film History Project on Archive.org and/or as free digital copies to scholars for research purposes.

In addition, students will learn about and practice skills related to provenance, authenticity, relevance, standards for archival description, historical context, metadata for effective search and retrieval, securely storing and maintaining digital data, and migration to new media formats that can last more than 50 years. Meanwhile, students will learn the limitations of digitization—that it is not a magic-bullet solution to space, accessibility, and preservation challenges.

Individuals interested in the collection can inquire directly with Prof. Keilty, at p.keilty@utoronto.ca. Finding aids are available on the SRC webpage and in Archeion, Ontario’s online research gateway to historical materials. Unfortunately, due to COVID-19, we’re unable to accommodate on-site research in the near future.