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PeepShow & Tell: Sex in Archives Blog Post #1: Matthew Lawrence – Headmaster magazine

29 Mar 2022 8:00 AM | Anonymous

For the next few weeks, we at the ACA McGill University Student Chapter invite you to join us for an immersive series of blog posts titled PeepShow and Tell: Sex in Archives. Through interviews with researchers and professionals working firsthand with explicit materials, we hope to illuminate the intrinsic value of sex and sexuality within the field of archiving and why these materials deserve to be preserved.

Ezell Carter, co-author of this piece, is a graduate student with the School of Information Studies at McGill University and the Co-Coordinator of the ACA McGill University Student Chapter.

For our first post, we spoke with Matthew Lawrence, a graduate student with the School of Information Studies at McGill University and the co-founder of Headmaster magazine, “The Art Magazine for Man-Lovers,” alongside his partner Jason Tranchida. We asked Matthew to tell us more about Headmaster, their engagement with archives, and how sexually explicit collections have shaped culture overall.

Can you tell us about your magazine, Headmaster, and what inspired you to start it?

The art journal Headmaster launched in 2010 as “the biannual art magazine for man-lovers.” The first issue was 88 pages, perfect bound, and printed on 70lb paper in an edition of 1000, a format we left virtually untouched for six years. We spent weeks agonizing over paper selection and then finding a printer that would let us do press proofs. Even now we drive to the printer so we can check each page as it comes off the offset printer, saying things like “can we bump up the magenta here?” or “this needs five percent less yellow.. Many people would not find this rewarding, but we do.

For the past decade, I have edited the art magazine Headmaster with my partner Jason Tranchida. Each issue of Headmaster features nine or ten original projects, based on assignments written specifically for each artist. Released occasionally—issues are numbered, not dated, and the “biannual” idea did not last very long—Headmaster is intended to be sexy and smart, topical without dating itself too quickly.

What can I find in an issue of Headmaster?

We have given assignments about an array of subjects: the planet Neptune, the lax public nudity laws in Seattle, the titling of porn videos, the architecture of discotheques. But we always keep returning to specific moments in queer (primarily gay male) histories, and that can lead to some fun archival research work. Once an artist is interested, we develop their assignment for a week or two and then give them roughly 6-8 weeks to complete their project, whether that is a comic style photo novel project about dithyrambs or a cut paper tug of war (to name two recent examples). We work with photographers and writers, but also with artists working in fiber, video, music, and other genres that are not traditional two-dimensional paper works. The most recent issue features an astrology project by House of Rice, Vancouver’s only all-Asian drag family.

What is one of your favourite projects from Headmaster?

There were originally three Headmaster editors. The third, Matthew Underwood, stepped back after the first few issues but remained close to the project, creating his own project for Headmaster No. 7. At some of our launch events, he live mixed pornographic VHS tapes under the pseudonym VJ DILF.

Headmaster No. 7 was field trip themed, and we sent our former co-editor Matthew Underwood to investigate the records of the Gaylactic Network, “a national organization for gay people and their friends, who are interested in science fiction, fantasy, horror and gaming.” In the early 1990s, the group’s geographically disparate members waged a letter-writing campaign to demand queer representation on Star Trek: The Next Generation. Underwood’s project includes a reproduction of a thoughtful but cagey letter from staff research consultant Richard Arnold explaining why gay and lesbian identities would not be an issue by the 24th century. (Figure 1)

Figure 1. Artist – Matthew Underwood, Headmaster No. 7

How does the world of archives enter into your work with Headmaster?

Brown University holds the administrative records, newsletters, correspondence, and promotional material for the Gaylactic Network’s first three decades, and we were fortunate enough to visit the collection with Underwood, who was so charmed by the fan-made comics, memorabilia, and newsletters that he decided to present the materials essentially as is, arranged neatly atop the visually disorienting grid of a transparent Photoshop layer. 

The sexual content of Headmaster varies from issue to issue, though generally the most explicit projects tend to be illustrated and not photographed. I enjoy the discovery process, and personally get excited when uncovering historical and creative moments that I did not know about previously. For instance, we gave the homoerotic writer Michael Wynne an assignment inspired by calling cards produced for Paresis Hall, an all-male brothel that existed on New York’s Bowery at the beginning of the twentieth century. We found a collector and reprinted some of his postcards for the issue, even though Wynne’s story was completely contemporary. Artist Dean Sameshima used vintage magazine imagery to advertise his own version of utopia. (Figure 2) In a more startling use of appropriation, artist Nicholas Galanin (Tlingit/Unangax̂) blended colonial imagery of Indigenous destruction with clueless white sports fans wearing feathers and headdresses.

Figure 2. Artist – Dean Sameshima, Headmaster No. 5

We began Headmaster at a time when many mainstream periodicals were dying out, but when a wave of underground queer periodicals was beginning to crest: titles like Christopher Schulz’s bear-focused photo project Pinups (which could be disassembled and turned into an almost life-sized poster), Darren Ankenbauer’s raunchier Handbook, or Jessica Gysel’s lesbian-centered Girls Like Us. That wave has largely subsided, partly due to the shuttering (at least in North America) of independent bookstores and other outlets that sold erotic niche zines and magazines.

What strikes you the most about this work and how it is received?

Well, as one example, our debut issue features a painting project by Sholem Krishtalka, an artist now based in Berlin who at the time managed Toronto’s Glad Day Bookshop. With the 2009 closing of New York’s Oscar Wilde Bookshop, Glad Day had recently taken the title of North America’s oldest gay bookstore. We learned about the store and about Krishtalka and thought we could maybe interview him, completely unaware that he was primarily a visual artist. After sending a cold email and getting a positive response, we asked him to paint some of his favorite images from vintage periodicals sold in the store. One of the most striking is a white page that simply says “’Homosexuals are child molesters.’ That’s what they’ll be saying.” (Figure 3)

Figure 3. Artist – Sholem Krishtalka, Headmaster No. 1

I visited New England last week and, scanning through radio stations, listened to a few minutes of a call-in show on one of the area’s many conservative talk radio networks. (This is one of the bluest parts of the country, mind you.) A caller used the words “grooming” and “indoctrination” to describe an interaction between a child and a hair stylist who asked for clarification when asked for “a girl’s haircut.”

Headmaster remains a labor of love for us. I am studying at McGill University in the Master of Information Studies program with a focus in archiving. I want to move into the archival field and realize that my dream job would be one where I could incorporate my experience in publishing, art, and queer histories. That’s where I hope to go. That’s where my journey with Headmaster has led me.


You can find more information about Matthew Lawrence and Headmaster magazine here: and here:

Images courtesy of Matthew Lawrence and Headmaster Magazine

Matthew Lawrence is a graduate student with the School of Information Studies at McGill University and the co-founder of Headmaster magazine alongside his partner Jason Tranchida.

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